Much of the C&O Canal National Historical Park from Seneca to Cumberland, Md., will remain closed for the rest of this year while volunteers work to clear tons of debris deposited by massive flooding in November, National Park Service officials said.
The 24 miles of towpath from Georgetown to Seneca -- which attracts hikers, fishermen, birdwatchers and others at the rate of about 6 million visits a year -- is eroded and damaged in some places and not good for biking or jogging, but will remain open, said park superintendent Richard Stanton.
With reductions in federal spending, the entire cleanup of the 184 1/2-mile park will probably take four years, Stanton said.
Piles of trees, trailer parts, household goods and other deposits from the flooding clog parts of the path from Seneca to Cumberland, Stanton said.
Much of that stretch, which was almost totally inundated, will be off limits to visitors this summer while efforts to clean up some of the $9 million in devastation are under way. Currently, about two-thirds of the towpath is considered hazardous and is closed.
A 30-foot "blowout" of the canal wall south of Fletchers Boathouse near Georgetown is being repaired, Stanton said, and tour barges will operate as usual there and at Great Falls this summer.
The canal has taken a number of serious blows since it was completed in 1850, including the flood of 1924 that ended its commercial usefulness, and damaging surges in 1936, 1942 and in other years as the result of powerful hurricanes.
But this winter's flooding -- which killed 43 residents of four states and caused $900 million in damage -- came at a time when park service funding was being cut by about 30 percent. It took $14 million and two years to clean up after Hurricane Agnes in 1972, for instance, but for the rest of this fiscal year, park officials said they are counting on only an emergency appropriation of $2 million.
To help with the cleanup, park officials are making arrangements to accommodate thousands of volunteers from organizations such as the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts this summer as part of the Interior Department's "Take Pride in America" parks program.
The C&O Park will host a jamboree for scouts from the mid-Atlantic region in June and July and park personnel will supervise the cleanup.