Repair of Mall And Towpath Is Considered

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By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 1, 2007

Upgrades to the Mall and the repair of a legendary gap in the towpath at the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park are among projects that could be undertaken under a long-term initiative outlined yesterday by the Interior Department.

Titled "The Future of America's National Parks," the initiative is a blueprint for improvement in the nation's park system as the National Park Service approaches its 100th anniversary in 2016, according to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, who wrote the document. The Interior Department oversees the Park Service.

President Bush has proposed spending $100 million a year in federal money on the park system for the next 10 years, and he hopes to generate twice that in private donations, totaling as much as $3 billion, the report says.

Although short on specifics -- a more detailed report is due in August -- the document notes that the Mall and the C&O Canal park, among scores of other potential projects, were likely candidates for improvements.

The Mall and its monuments, which bear many signs of time and wear, could be made an international example of "excellence in park design, maintenance, and visitor services," the report says.

The idea, Kempthorne said yesterday at the Interior Department, is that "any landscape architect, any horticulturist from anywhere in the world, when they come here, they will see the standard of excellence. . . . We have not yet achieved it, but we will."

The canal park, which stretches 184.5 miles along the Potomac River from Georgetown to Cumberland, Md., could at last see repairs to the 2.7-mile gap in the towpath at Big Slackwater, just below Williamsport, the report suggests.

The towpath, with its gravel surface and canopy of trees, is a haven for joggers, hikers, campers and cyclists. The gap, at a spot where the river has washed away sections of the towpath, has existed since the 1970s, said John Noel, the park's partnerships coordinator.

It has forced users to take a hazardous six-mile detour along narrow country roads. Thirty-four people have been injured on the detour during the past five years, Noel said. He said the gap repair would cost about $15 million.

Although a mention in Kempthorne's report does not guarantee work will be done, Noel said, it's good to be among the few parks named in the document.

"There are 391 parks in the system, and we're on there," he said. "So we're very excited."

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