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River Access Issues

CCA is the voice of the DC paddling community to preserve and extend paddling access - primarily along and across the C&O Canal, keeping Seneca Creek clear, pushing for a put in for Goose Creek and steps around the dam, and fighting to preseve access at multiple points to the fine whitewater at Harpers Ferry.  

Our River Access Committee focuses on moves by the authorities and corporations (the C&O Canal Park, Loudoun Parks, and the CSX RR) in Georgetown, Montgomery & Loudoun Counties, and Harpers Ferry that deeply affect our ability to get to the Potomac and tributaries.  For Canal Water Levels, scroll down.

CCA Access Goals:

1. Get the lower C&O Canal re-watered sooner rather than later to facilitate paddling on the river (the Little Falls and Violettes/ GW Canal paddle-back loops) 

2. Improve physical access for the elderly, disabled veterans and beginning paddlers at popular access points (Lock 5, Lock 10, Anglers, Violettes)

3. Press for better access to Goose Creek.

4. Reverse the CSX RR’s blocking the Weverton crossing near Harpers Ferry. We're in discussions, too, with natural allies like Team River Runner and the Washington Canoe Club.

Please join us if you're interested in working on securing or improving access to a specific stream.  Dave Cottingham, Jack Findling, Pam White, Barb Brown, Jim Scott John Snitzer, and Alf Cooley are among those engaged.  

Contact Committee Chair Gordon L Lang at

Our most prominent access achievement was in 2019 at Trump Golf Club across from Violettes Lock. 
CCA sued the US Coast Guard in 2018 over their blocking the river and won.

Canoers Declare Victory In Trump Golf Course Dispute, Gaining Potomac Access _ WAMU

Canoe v. Trump: Local Paddlers Sue Over Potomac Access Next To President’s Golf Course

CCA Wins ACA Green Paddle Award for 2019 for this

Washington, DC Area

Fletcher's Cove
Supporting the proposed renovation of the entrance to the area.

C&O Canal Re-watering
John Snitzer and Barb Brown followed up several informal contacts with the C&O NHP by meeting its Superintendent Kevin Brandt and his deputy John Noel at Park HQ up in Hagerstown to discuss how we might cooperate to see that boater interests were taken into account as the Park moves ahead with its $7 million project to refill portions of the Canal between Violettes Lock and Georgetown. We continue to be engaged with them. 

Sandy Beach Steps
Critical boaters' descent from Lock 17 to the Potomac's Mather Gorge - - We and the volunteer part of the C&O Park had scheduled reconstruction and improvement, but lost our priority. Will keep plugging. (Aug 2019)

Goose Creek
    Prime beginner river, closed since 9/11.  We explored likely put-ins, where a facility comparable to the Kephart Landing take-out is in the wind, but found no construction. However, we did find a way to the Goose Reservoir, at Sycolin Road and Golf Course Rapid.  We’ve run many trips this season (Oct 2019).  Cruiser_2018_03_March_April


Violettes Lock/ GW Canal Loop

Got the C&O Canal Park to restore water to the Pennyfield-Violettes reach - making this a one-car loop again.   In the GW Canal in VA we're constantly engaged, working with Calleva to clear recurring log jams.

Lock 10 - improving takeout


Bloede Dam removal project in Patapsco Valley State Park - finished.
Article on Bloede Dam from the Baltimore Sun
CCA didn’t have a lot to do with advocating for Bloede dam removal on the Patapsco - American Rivers is taking a lot of credit. However, it has made the lower Patapsco free flowing. 

Seneca Creek - work with Seneca Creek State Park to clear this nearby family-friendly stream of logs - a job that needs monitoring as well as muscle.  


Also, support the State Park at Black Rock Mill on parking restrictions.


Harper's Ferry, WV Area

Weverton RR Crossing
This is the lower take-out in Maryland for boaters running the Needles section of the Potomac and the Staircase section of the Shenandoah past Harpers Ferry.  In early Feb, 2018, soon after a meeting of stakeholders, CCA, which was not present, heard that the CSX RR had put up signs warning boaters and hikers that the RR had declared Weverton to be a “private crossing.” And CSX removed the white posts telling its engineers to sound warning blasts in approaching the crossing. This crossing is used by 20,000 people each year, including users of the Appalachian Trail.  CCA and other organizations are working hard to counter this, which could drastically cut access to a beloved intermediate paddle. 

Weverton Rail Crossing Feasibility Study
CCA's Response to the Weverton Feasibility Study
David Cottingham - Comments on Weverton Feasibility Study
Comment on Weverton Study from Elizabeth Watson

Other parts of the Harpers Ferry access pie include:Sandy Hook MD.  Millville, WV,  Bakerton WV, Wayside Landing & Parking, VA,  Beach access at 
Harpers Ferry itself, and a portage route around the dam upstream of Millville on the Shenandoah.

See also on this website under "Message Board" - Sub-file "Events and Announcements" - the following:

Access Projects - Goose Ck - 5/2018, 11/2017
C&O Sup't Unveils Multi-Year Plan to Re-Water the Canal - 11/2017
CCA – ACCESS PROJECTS – C&O Canal - 3 Nov 2017
C&O Canal - 10 Possible Loops – 5 Loops + 5 Out-and-Backs:  1/2018
River Access Issues for the C&O NHP - 10/2019
Locks on the Lower C&O Canal - 10/2019
Access – A Restored Lower C&O Canal -  CCA Vision                  7 Dec 2019

CANAL LEVELS - Georgetown to Violettes Lock

(updated 8 Nov 2019)  Currently Level 4/Georgetown and Level 22/Pennyfield are navigable - as is the perennial Widewater/upper Level 14 (but not down to Anglers bridge).

First:  A record of levels on Bill Endicott's gauge for Level 4, meaning the reach above Lock 4 in Georgetown up to Lock 5.  20 inches means about half full - sufficient for WW boats returning from a Little Falls run, but a bit problematic for racing sculls.

This is to keep track of what the Park Service is doing, with a view of getting them to inform the CCA of changes they're going to make.  So we don't get skunked and can pass the word on to the paddling public.

Georgetown Reach - Dec 8th - 6"
2019 - July 29 - 22"    30th-21"    Aug 1st- 21 3/4"    4th-22" 6th - 22.5"  24-29th - 18"   Sept 5th - 18"    11th - 15.5"    18th-10.5"      Oct 23d - 15"   27th - 26"  Nov 3d - 11.5"  (We asked the C&O Canal Park about the low levels, and they say - no intent to dewater the Canal until Jan 2020.

The authorities have a gauge at the 31st St Bridge repair project whose high point is 4 feet.  Since cattails and reeds hinder paddlers from getting there often, (but see Trip Report for 24 Oct 2019) readings are far less frequent.    Aug 6 - 2' 8"    Oct 24 - 2' 5"

Level 5 is empty, Level 6 watered but low - green with algae and many fallen branches in it. (Aug 29) 

- Levels 19 and 20 (by Great Falls Tavern) and above and below Swains Lock are empty. since the waste weir at Swains Lock blew out in Nov 1's downpour.   3 new lock-gate sets on Locks 17, 18, 19.  (Aug 23) 

Pennyfield to Violettes  - Level 22
full since beginning of May 2019

Please send newer info to - or post it yourself.

Access – A Restored Lower C&O Canal -  CCA Vision                  DRAFT   7 Dec 2019

This is how the CCA envisions a rewatered Canal dedicated to paddlecraft might appear.  It is based on the plan announced by NHP Supt Kevin Brandt in November 2017.  Our vision is focused on the water in the Canal, using the towpath to pass the locks and around several short levels that would be uneconomical to restore for minimal paddling – meaning most of the Seven Locks and Six Locks sections.  Since canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards cannot be locked up the Canal, we would pass around the locks by carrying our craft or rolling them on portable wheels.  We point out that all of these reaches have been in navigable condition within the last thirty years. (is this true?  Or for the last 50 years? – have to inquire)


Also part of our vision is a series of improvements to many cross-canal access points to the Potomac, which we handle in a separate paper.


The major sections to be rewatered are:

– from Lock 4/Georgetown up to Lock 10/Cabin John – 4.5 mi

– from Lock 14/Beltway-Carderock to Widewater - 4 mi

– from Lock 16 to 17 – 1/3 mi

– from Lock 19 to Violettes Lock 23 – 7 mi  - for a total of just under 16 miles.


The restoration of these sections to boating would allow novices and families with children a safe and beautiful place for multiple outings.  It would also enable several loop trips down the Potomac and back up the Canal.  These too are the subject of another paper.


We recognize that several of these sections have the NHP’s attention, especially where they support the operation of canal barges for tourists at Georgetown and Great Falls Tavern, but also primarily for paddlecraft use (Pennyfield Reach).  


Ways around the Locks for Small Boats – To avoid damage, in most spots we suggest simple, unobtrusive flagstone steps between the towpath berm and the canal, and in a couple of places wooden sluices down into the waterway.  In others we advocate rebuilding the small landing docks of a decade ago (much smaller than the current dock at Fletchers Boathouse.)


Georgetown/ Level 4 – NHP already has plans to clean out the reeds at the lower end of this reach and raise the water level in Spring 2020.  We suggest a boat put-in on Canal right (river-side), currently an unused small plot ideal for assembling boats and gear – and with a boat chute and steps to enter the Canal(check this out – there may be fresh rock-wall there, rendering it inappropriate.) Otherwise enter off towpath (uphill side) of Canal just upstream from 31st St Bridge.  Out at Lock 5 on the uphill side just below parking pull-out.


Lock 5/ Feeder Canal to Lock 6 – Lock holds water but the level is very low and stagnant- [All sections from here to Violettes depend on water coming down from Dam #2 at Violettes or in from the uphill side along the waterway.]

Enter Canal from towpath, leave at Lock 6 on uphill side.

Lock 6/ Brookmont – Lock holds water but the level is low and stagnant.  Put-in off the towpath.  Needs fallen trees cut out.  

Lock 7/ Glen Echo – 1.3 miles – condition unknown.


Lock 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 - the Seven Locks - and their levels – broken, overgrown, impassible.  These short levels are of no interest to paddlers.

Lock/Level 14 – (4 miles)  The top of the 7 Locks and head of a long and tempting reach that goes up past Carderock, the fraught High Wall with buried Dulles Sewer, Little Widewater (watered), Anglers (currently un-navigable), and Widewater (watered).  This has fascinating possibilities for partial rewatering (details below).


Ending at the top end of Widewater, we propose a short portage trail under the wooden towpath-side bicycle and pedestrian ramp and bridge, coming out on the towpath at Lock 15  (no interest in this short (0.2 mi) section with steep banks in and out.)

Lock/Level 16 to Sandy Beach Steps – (0.3 mi) This is the longest level in the Six Locks series around Great Falls with Mary’s Wall and ending at Lock 17/Sandy Beach Steps and Trail.  No lock gate left, need only a low (2 foot) wall at mouth of Lock 16 to raise water level sufficiently.  Need steps down at Lock 16, up at Lock 17.

Locks 17, 18, 19 – These were refurbished in 2019, but their short reaches mean that paddlers will portage around all of them, putting in at Lock 20/ Great Falls Tavern. 

Lock 20/ Great Falls Tavern – This 2¼ mile level was watered until an early Nov 2019 freshet.  NHP is working on rewatering it again. Here starts the final 7-mile stretch up to Violettes Lock. Need small steps down into the Canal (towpath side) at the Tavern.

Swains Lock 21 – A 3 mile level behind an old lock that holds water was partly watered – until the Nov 2019 freshet burst the Swains waste weir.  Need small steps down into the Canal (right, left? side).

Pennyfield Lock 22 – At the head of the final 1½ mile reach up to Violettes Lock – Lock 22 is newly refurbished and its level is watered but (12/2019) too low for boating.  Need small steps down into the Canal (right, left? side).

Stored on the CCA website at Access – A Restored C&O Canal


Appendix - Partial Rewatering of Level 14


   Here is a 4 mile long section which begs for rewatering.  Raising Widewater at the top end by a foot would allow paddling from the access bridge at Anglers both up-Canal and down.  That the Canal is dry in most places is due to fears of leakage or structure failure at several points, notably at the high masonry retaining wall down to the Potomac called “Highwalls” (Mile 11.1, just up from Carderock).  There the (ca 8-foot diameter) Dulles Sewer buried under the Canal in the 1960s has been watched for signs of possible catastrophic rupture.  In recent years the NHP has used 2-foot diameter plastic pipe to lead water in Level 14 over a leaky section at Culvert 15 (Mile 10.42) next to the road underpass at the entrance to Carderock Park.   This suggests a solution for raising the water level in much of this long reach.


Water Sources - In

– down the Canal entering Widewater at Lock 15

– off the uphill side of the 3½ miles of waterway down to Carderock


Waste Weirs - Out

– at Mile 9.67 – 1/5 mile up from Lock 14 (currently unused as this section is dry)

– at Mile 13 in the “Log Wall” * portion of the towpath along Widewater


At the top end of Highwalls an unnamed but constant trickle or spring comes out of the low left-side cliff, down into the Canal, where it flows both upstream and down. Above it is the intermittently navigable Little Widewater section of the reach; below it the Canal is practically dry. 


To restore 2¼ miles of navigable canal from here up past Marsden and Anglers footbridges through Widewater, a foot-high cofferdam could be built at the top end of Highwalls and the water from the spring led in a pipe similar to that at Culvert 15 – upstream-wards.  The 200 yards of canal at Highwalls and downstream from that dam would thus be dry, relieving pressure on the retaining wall.


In addition, to gain another 1½ miles of navigability down to Lock 14, another large plastic pipe could be built downstream-wards from the cliff-spring, releasing into the canal after Highwalls, with another cofferdam to keep the water from running back up into that section of the Canal.  This option has a far lesser cost/benefit ratio than the upstream one and may not be practicable.


  • In some of its literature the NHP has used “Logwall” to designate this part of the Canal at Mile 11 opposite Vaso Island.This place is properly called “Highwalls.”(Hahn, Towpath Guide, p. 36)“Logwall” describes the towpath walkway across the outflow from Widewater. (Hahn, p. 38)