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 C&O Canal Association

About

What is the difference between the C&O Canal Association  and the C&O Canal Trust?

C&O Canal Association is an all-volunteer, independent organization, while C&O Canal Trust is an official partner of the park with a paid staff. These distinctions give the two organizations different strengths, even though both groups support the canal. Both are non-profit organizations.

Because C&OCA is independent, it can take public positions in opposition to the National Park Service, when necessary. The most prominent example is the association’s opposition to construction of a Georgetown University boathouse within park boundaries.

The Canal Trust’s partnership status and full-time staff enable it to work closely with the park on key projects, such as the Canal Quarters  program. The trust has also demonstrated considerable fund raising prowess.

About the C&O Canal Association

The C&O Canal Association was founded in 1954 by the conservationists and supporters who participated in the hike that year led by Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas. In the early years, the Association took the lead in the campaign that lead to the creation of the C&O Canal National Historical Park in 1971.

Today, we remain an independent, all-volunteer organization of citizens concerned with the continued viability of the Park and all of its natural and historic resources. To help preserve and protect these resources, we readily assist the Park Service with both manpower and money. Additionally, we monitor conditions (both regulatory and physical) that could adversely affect the Park. We work to bring attention to these conditions and openly advocate on behalf of the Park.

Membership is open to all. Available in PDF format are our bylaws and also a leadership directory that describes the functions of officers, directors, and committee chairs.

Association activities include hikes, bike and canoe trips, a level walkers program and special projects to support park activities.

The C&O Canal Association sponsors a spring and fall hike, a continuing hike series on various Saturday and Sunday mornings throughout the year, bike trips on the towpath and canoe trips on the Potomac River.

An active Level Walkers Program is made up of volunteers who, on a regular basis, walk assigned sections of the towpath to publicize the Canal and the Association, collect trash, if needed, and provide written reports to the NPS on the physical condition of the towpath.

You can read about our archives, which are maintained as part of the Special Collections of the Gellman Library at George Washington University.

About the C&O Canal

Before it was a national park, the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal was one of a network of American canals dug during the late 18th and early 19th centuries to form water highways for commercial trade. These Canals were part of the great Industrial Revolution.

Plaque commemorating canal's landmark status
This plaque at Monocacy Aqueduct commemorates the canal's landmark status, as designated by the American Society of Civil Engineers
The C&O Canal paralleled the mighty but unnavigable Potomac River and linked Cumberland, Maryland with the nation's capital, using an orderly system of locks to permit heavily laden coal boats to pass to successively lower levels from the mountains to tidewater. The mule teams that pulled the boats along the canal walked on the towpath, guided by the families of the boat captains.

Just as the C&O ran beside the Potomac, the railroad ran beside the C&O Canal and soon made boat traffic an outmoded system when compared to the speed of rail transport.

The C&O and other American canals could not compete and fell into commercial disuse in the early 20th century. The towpath was then used only by woodsmen and hikers; occasional storms and floods washed away parts of the banks and structures and trees grew in what was the canal bed

About the C&O Canal National Historical Park

Since the canal was no longer commercially useful, there were plans in the 1950's to bulldoze it and pave a super-highway into Maryland's mountains.

Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas was one of the few people at the time who realized the historical, cultural, geological and botanical significance of the C&O. He challenged opinion-shapers of his day to walk the length of the 184 mile C&O with him and decide for themselves if it should be destroyed.

They took the walk in 1954 and then joined him in the effort to save the canal. That effort resulted in the formation of the C&O Canal Association, and, 17 years later, in the passage of legislation that created the C&O Canal National Historic Park, now one of the major areas in the National Park System. In the mid 1970's, the canal and towpath were dedicated to Justice Douglas to honor him for his singular contribution to the nation's park system.

The C&O Canal Association continues today with its mission of protecting, preserving and promoting the assets of the C&O Canal Historic Park.

     C & O Canal Association     P.O Box 366      Glen Echo, MD 20812-0366     Phone: 301-983-0825      Email: inquiries@candocanal.org