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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 working with others 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 current Canal Water Levels, scroll down.     (rev. 3  Aug 2020)

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, Sandy Beach, 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 Access 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 in early 2018 with 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) - Then came covid.

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    2020 - In covid time - just messing about in Golfcourse Rapid (200 cfs/ 2 ft is the minimum) - an up-and-back trip.


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                  7-18 Dec 2019

CURRENT CANAL LEVELS - Georgetown to Violettes Lock (updated 22 Sept 2020)  

Currently Level 4/Georgetown is at -2 inches navigability - INSUFFICIENT - C&O Park says it'll be that way until April 2021 

Level 4/Georgetown was at +21 inches navigability - PLENTY -  to use as return from Little Falls.  Navigable at least down to Fletchers - likely to Foxhall Rd [ 3 miles]. 

Upstream:  All Levels up from Great Falls Tavern (Lock 20) [8 miles] are NAVIGABLE - meaning Swains (L 21) level and Pennyfield (L 22) Level to Violettes is NAVIGABLE.   Thank you C&O NHP. 
(as of 22 Sep 2020)

Level 4, below Fletchers & esp Foundry Branch/ Foxhall Rd down to Georgetown/Lock 4 is said to be watered - too many reeds until it is navigable.  (Aug 2020)

 The perennial Widewater/very top Level 14 is watered
(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 - 19" - Navigable  between Little Falls and Lock 5

2020 - 22 March - Not Navigable 
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"  Dec 8 - 6"    Dec 15 - 4.75"   C&O Canal Park says -
we'll rewater this in April 2020 - problem with leaky cofferdam at 31st St Bridge project.

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, 2019 - 2' 8"    Oct 24 - 2' 5"     9 Feb 2020 and `10 July 2020 - totally dry.

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 were emptu, but now FULL.  (Prob was the waste weir at Swains Lock blew out in Nov 1 2019's downpour.)   3 new lock-gate sets on Locks 17, 18, 19.  (Aug 23, 2019) 

Pennyfield to Violettes  - Level 22   
      - has been totally refilled at
 beginning of May 2019

Access – A Restored Lower C&O Canal – A CCA Vision    DRAFT   7-12 Dec 2019, rev 14 July 2020 query on 23 Aug 20

This is how the CCA envisions a rewatered Canal dedicated to paddlecraft might appear.  It is based on the plan announced by C&O Canal NHP Supt Kevin Brandt in November 2017.  Our vision is focused on the Canal as a waterway, using the towpath to pass some of the locks and to progress along 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.  Some of us remember that all of the reaches we seek to have rewatered have been navigable within the last forty years.


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.  For paddlecraft the Park has also refilled the Pennyfield Reach.  


Ways around the Locks for Small Boats – For ease of footing and 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 many other places we suggest landing and portaging on the uphill/ lock-house side, at some we advocate rebuilding the small landing docks of a decade ago (much smaller than the current canal dock at Fletchers Boathouse.)


Georgetown/ Level 4 (4.5 mi) – NHP already plans to clean out the reeds at the lower end of this reach and raise the water level in Spring/now Summer 2020.  We suggest a boat put-in on Canal right (river-side) st Lock 4, currently an unused small plot on Thomas Jefferson St. ideal for assembling boats and gear, with steps to enter the Canal over a flush stone wall.  Entering off the narrow towpath (uphill side) just up from 31st St Bridge is less ideal.  Take-out at Lock 5, as now, on the uphill side just below the parking pull-out.


(Succeeding sections up to the Seven Locks) (3.5 miles) - All are dry, save just up from Locks 6 and 7.  Towpath in excellent shape.  Levels 6, 7, and 8 are long and scenic; 9 is very short.  A major problem is how to get water to these - lesser problem is removing ca 15 fallen trees.   Water no longer comes down from Dam #2 at Violettes through the Seven Locks, True in AUg 2020 - with pour-through from wains? but rather from various short streams draining this residential part of Montgomery County.   The larger streams are carried under by culvert; those entering the Canal directly - often contributing to silt-in - are noted below


Lock 5/ Feeder Canal to Lock 6 (0.3 mi)  Lock 5 holds water, but the level is very low and stagnant. This has been up in recent months, though not now navigable up to Lock 6.  It is a priority for paddling boats back up to the Lock 6 parking lot after running Little Falls and was possible as recently as 10 years ago.  Landing place as before - behind lock house 6.


Brookmont Level 6 (1.6 mi) - The top Lock-6 gate is rotting, allowing water to leak through. The water level at the lock is navigable, though plant-infested, but shallows out in a half mile.  Needs 2 feet more to fill the reach to Lock 7.  Quiet, as the parkway is uphill and set back.  Passes Brookmont Dam and Sycamore Island.  100 yards up from the Sycamore footbridge a tiny brook issuing from a gap in the uphill cliff has formed a pebble and rock delta blocking the Canal with silting down-canal so the water upstream is 2 feet above that below.  Possible landing behind lock house 7.


Glen Echo Level 7 (1.3 mi) - Lock 7, a drop gate lock, is rotted (see-through) and holds no water.  100 yards above it is a brand new waste weir; no water passing through, evidencing serious NHP intentions for this level - and presumably adjacent ones.  The lower part of this reach is noisy from the nearby parkway and has more downed timber than those parts above and below (see Cabin John Creek aqueduct and blockages at the footbridge just above.)   Landing place behind lock house 8.


Level 8 (0.67 mi) - moist but too low to navigate.  A trickle comes in just upstream from the lock house, formerly run by the Potomac Conservancy.


Level 9 (0.1 mi) - moist, non-navigable.  A small dry sewer enters the Lock 10 bypass flume.


Level 10 (0.16 mi) - dry, marsh grass - restored (2019) Rock Run Culvert is under the upper end.

Locks 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 - the Seven Locks - and their levels – broken, overgrown, impassible.  These levels are so short that even if filled, paddlers would likely portage directly up to Lock 14.

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, the wide spot (watered), Anglers (currently too low), 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  (We have no interest in the short (0.2 mi) Level 15 section with steep banks into the prism and back 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 down to the Potomac.  Rewatering this and clearing the Lock 15 portage trail are critical to restoring the loop trip down Mather Gorge.  At Lock 16 there is no gate left, but it needs just a low (2 foot) wall at mouth of Lock 16 to raise water level sufficiently.  Need steps down into the prism at Lock 16, up at Lock 17.

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

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

Swains Lock 21 – (3 miles) The level up from Swains is marginally navigable for a half mile to where a strainer holds more water up to Pennyfield.   The refurbished Swains waste weir is letting out too much water for full navigability.  At Swains and Pennyfield exit and reenter the Canal on lock-house side.

Pennyfield Lock 22 (1½ mi) At the head of the final reach up to Violettes Lock – Lock 22 is newly refurbished and it is fully watered (July 2020) with overflow coursing down the bypass flume.  Exit and reenter the Canal opposite the lock-house.

updated 14 July 2020

This document is 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 the level in Widewater at the top end by a foot would allow paddling from the access bridge at Anglers both up-Canal and down.   This level is dry over half its length for fear 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 which was buried under the Canal in the 1960s is watched by the NHP for signs of possible catastrophic rupture, and the prism there is filled with silt above the pipe. 
     Farther down the NHP has placed 2-foot diameter plastic pipe to lead water in Level 14 over a leaky section at Culvert 15 (Mile 10.42) and the underpass 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 (berm) 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) Recently (2018) rehabbed .

– 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 berm-side cliff, down into the Canal, where it flows both upstream and down.  Upstream from it is the intermittently navigable broad section of Level 14; below it the Canal is practically dry down to Lock 14. 


The easier restoration would be of the 2½ miles of navigable canal from Highwalls up past Marsden and Anglers footbridges through Widewater.  For this a foot-high cofferdam [like the pair holding the pipes that lead over the entrance to Carderock Park] could be built at the upstream end of Highwalls.  The water from the spring could be led in a pipe similar to that at the park entrance – upstream-wards.  The 200 yards of canal at Highwalls and 1.5 miles downstream from that dam to Lock 14 would thus stay dry, relieving pressure on the retaining wall.


Alternatively, 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 below Highwalls, with another low cofferdam to keep the water from running back up into that no longer moist, but now dried-out section of the Canal.  


  • 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 at Mile 13.0 across the outflow from Widewater to the Potomac. (see Hahn, p. 38)