Level Walker Program Updates

Hello Level Walkers!

There has been a great deal of activity lately as we reactivate volunteer activity. This update is intended to update or clarify a few of the aspects related to level walking. With no further ado –


Communications – Since early 2017, I have used this blog to post relevant information about the park and the Level Walker program. This is not an official C&O Canal Association or National Park Service blog; it is privately administered by me in my role as the Level Walker chairperson. It has a number of advantages – it is more secure than a mass email mailing (risk of inadvertent release of people’s email addresses); it provides an on-line archive of all information I post; and supports rapid transmission of information.

To receive the updates, you only need to provide your email in the FOLLOW BLOG VIA EMAIL block on this page. You will not receive junk mail or be added to any list for doing this, you will simply receive the updates when I post them. One note about the emails you receive – they are NOT sent by me. They are automatically generated by WordPress. If you respond, I will not receive your response. You can email me separately if you ever have a question about one of the posts.


Level Walker Status – We recently received permission to reactivate all level walker assignments. I have tried to reach out to all of you who have recently been active, but of course I may have missed someone. If you haven’t heard from me, please contact me. If you have received an email from me but have not responded, please let me know if you intend to return to level walking or want to take a break. If you don’t respond after a while I will assume you intend to discontinue level walking.

You must satisfy all requirements to reactivate and maintain your status as an active level walker. As with all C&O Canal National Historical Park volunteer activities, the Level Walker program has a unique mission and its own requisites for a volunteer to participate. Some are the same or similar to other programs, but all must be verified before you can be activated as a level walker and remain one. The requirements are:

  1. You need to be a C&O Canal Association member. (Association)
  2. You must complete and submit a Volunteer Service Agreement (VSA). Any pre-COVID VSAs are invalid at this point. (NPS)
  3. You must complete any training requirements that the NPS invokes. (NPS)
  4. You need to be an active level walker, which means walking your level(s) – and filing a report – at least once a year. (Association)

As noted above, Requirements 1 through 3 are mandatory, and if you do not fulfill them for any reason, then we must exclude you as a volunteer. The VSA is particularly important. It is a U.S. Government form (OF301a) that is submitted directly to the NPS, and is required of all NPS volunteers. If you do not complete it you are not covered in the event of any injury or other incident. Note that you only need to complete one VSA for the C&O Canal NHP; if you have done one for another C&O Canal NHP program your level walker assignment can be added to the VSA by the NPS volunteer program manager. In that event, I need to know that you have done that.

We have a little more flexibility with Requirement 4. If you need to take a break from volunteer activity because of medical or personal reasons but intend to return as a volunteer later, you can let me know and I will keep you on the level walker list in a “hold” status. Otherwise, after a period of time I drop you from the volunteer list. Remember – I need to have a report from you to count it as a level walk.

Some people are also being careful about the COVID-19 pandemic and holding off on volunteer activity. That is a very valid concern. In that case you can still complete the reactivation requirements so they are out of the way, but remain on hold.


Level Walk Reports – The majority of you provide your reports by email. A select few submit paper reports. The level walker report is an evolving process and new reporting criteria will roll out around the first of the calendar year. All reports are filed and retained – and are greatly appreciated. One thing to note – I can’t always quickly respond to reports due to schedule and email volume. If something in your report requires immediate attention please put URGENT in the subject line.


Level Walker Program Activity – As a federal agency, the park tracks volunteer activity by the number of hours over a fiscal year. For Fiscal Year 2020 (1 October 2019 to 30 September 2020), the Level Walker program reported the following:

Volunteer hours – 848
Volunteers – 79 (note – this includes family and friends who participated in level walks
Level walks – 224
Trash bags (equivalent) – 92

This is a little less activity than normal, but the program was effectively shut down for four months. It is still a significant contribution to the park. Thanks for all you do to be part of the team!


That’s all for now. I am still waiting to reactivate a few level walkers. Once I do that I will be requesting support for some underserved levels throughout the park. This will be either on a temporary or permanent basis.

Steve


Image – Dam 4 in autumn – Level 32

C&O Canal NHP Status Update – May 27

Hello Level Walkers –

Following update is from volunteer program manager, Emily Hewitt.

Thanks!

Steve


 

Dear Volunteers,
We have some updates on the park’s operating status. The park is working to increase access in a phased approach. The volunteer program continues to be suspended until further notice. The following information can be found on the park website.
Park status at this time:
Reservation Only Campgrounds – beginning to open at Antietam Creek, McCoys Ferry, 15-Mile Creek, Paw Paw, Spring Gap. Campsites must be reserved through www.recreation.gov. These facilities will have every other site open in order to encourage social distancing. Please bring your own water as pump handles will not be replaced and turned on at this time. Restrooms will be cleaned twice weekly. Please bring your own hand sanitizer, soap, and toilet paper as these items have been the subject of theft.
Hiker-biker Campsites – open in Frederick, Washington, and Allegany Counties (Calico Rocks to Evitts Creek). Please bring your own water as pump handles will not be replaced and turned on at this time. Restrooms may be open and will be cleaned twice weekly. Please bring your own hand sanitizer, soap, and toilet paper as these items have been the subject of theft.
Restrooms, Vault Toilets, and Portable Toilets – beginning to open at campgrounds, boat ramps, and day use areas in Frederick, Washington, and Allegany Counties. Restrooms will be cleaned twice weekly. Please bring your own hand sanitizer, soap, and toilet paper as these items have been the subject of theft.

Water Fountains and Wells – beginning to open in Frederick, Washington, and Allegany Counties.

Gatherings of more than 10 persons are prohibited.
C&O Canal NHP will cancel permits and reservations and will not accept applications for demonstrations, special events, or park site reservations until further notice.
Visitor Centers continue to be closed.
 
Parking Areas – may be closed, including the Great Falls, Fletchers Cove, and Carderock Recreation Area. Parking at Anglers is limited to provide access for EMS and rescue services.

While the listed areas are accessible for visitors to enjoy, a return to full operations will continue to be phased, and services may be limited. When recreating, please follow local area health orders, practice Leave No Trace principles, and avoid crowding and high-risk outdoor activities.

The CDC has offered guidance to help people recreating in parks and open spaces prevent the spread of infectious diseases. We will continue to monitor all park functions to ensure that visitors adhere to CDC guidance for mitigating risks associated with the transmission of COVID-19 and take any additional steps necessary to protect public health.

Please let us know if you have any questions.
Stay well!
Emily H. Hewitt

Volunteer Update – May 8, 2020

Hello Level Walkers,
The park remains open, but volunteer activities are still on hold.  Here is another update from C&O Canal Volunteer Coordinator Emily Hewitt.
Also – a reminder – don’t forget to submit your 2021 C&O Canal Calendar candidate photos to the park via Google Drive to chohvip@gmail.com. To do this, compose an email and hover your mouse over the plus sign next to the attachments, click on the drive icon (resembles recycling logo), upload the photos you would like to share, and send to chohvip@gmail.com. If you have any issues with this, please feel free to attach photos to a standard email sent to the same email address.

Please label your photo files with the name of photographer and location.
– Ex. BigSlackwater_Jane_Doe.
The deadline for submission is Friday, June 5th, 2020. If your photograph is selected, you will be contacted and credited in the calendar.
Well Wishes,
Steve

Dear Volunteers,
I hope you have been enjoying the many blooms and blossoms of spring. There is one plant that is pervasive this time of year that is not such a welcome sight. Did you happen to see the post about invasive garlic mustard on the park Facebook page? If you see garlic mustard in your yard or during a walk in the neighborhood, now is the time to pull it before it goes to seed.
Speaking of invasive plant removals (and other volunteer projects) the annual Canal Pride Days events have been postponed due to COVID-19. The C&O Canal Trust is considering how small volunteer events to help the park might take place later in the year. Stay tuned for more information by following the C&O Canal Trust Facebook page.
In April, we highlighted many natural resource opportunities for Earth Month. So this week, Claire has the attached cultural resource piece to share and asks you to consider the following question. As we compare and contrast our present day lives to the recorded experiences of those who came before us, what do you identify as being intrinsically the same, and what is vastly different? Developing Perspective Through Historic Resources
We hope you are enjoying this natural and cultural resource information. Feel free to share your thoughts with us on Facebook or via email.
Please stay well!
Emily H. Hewitt
She/Her/Hers
Volunteer Program Manager
C&O Canal National Historical Park
Emily_Hewitt@nps.gov

Image – Baby Raccoons near Oldtown – Level 62

Level Walker Update

Hello Level Walkers!

It’s been a while since I’ve written! My intent was to get in touch with you to kick off the spring, when many level walkers return to the towpath. Of course, the pandemic has affected us all in many ways; I hope you are all coping well and staying healthy.  As you most likely have heard, at the present time, volunteer activities are suspended on the C&O Canal NHP. We’ll update you when that status changes.

Over the past month, I’ve reviewed recent level walker activity and the coverage we provide to the park. I’m happy to report you all have done a great job!  You are a great resource for the park, and the program provides a unique service. Some of you focus on clean-up activities, some delight in the natural aspects of our park, some provide insightful details about the conditions of the towpath and structures, and some cover just about everything.

My review did find that there are some sections of the park that would benefit from more coverage. I am looking at ways to improve coverage in these areas, and if you are interested in other opportunities please let me know.  The levels are throughout the park, and I plan to reach out to some of you individually to discuss possible realignment of assignments.

I recently contacted you individually regarding the National Park Service Volunteer Service Agreements (VSAs). These agreements are a mandatory requirement for all volunteers on national parks, and the NPS now asks that we renew them annually. If I contacted you, and you have already responded, thank you. If I haven’t heard from you I will be reminding you.  You only need to do one, and if you support other programs and included level walking on a VSA for that program, you are covered. In that case, please let me know you did that so I can update your status for the Level Walker program.

If I haven’t contacted you about the VSA, I either missed you for some reason or I may not have you on the list of active level walkers. There are three things needed to stay in the level walker program: the VSA, current C&O Canal Association membership, and recent (within one year) level walking activity.

Over the next few months I will be revising the level walk reporting format. This change is to better address the type of information collected and make it as relevant as possible to the park’s needs. Hopefully it will simplify things a bit, too.

One other note on reports – you may have noticed in the March Along the Towpath that the period of reports covered now ends on the last day of the month before the newsletter is produced – i.e. January 31 for the March issue. This allows more time for production of the article for the newsletter.

I’ll be in touch later, as the season progresses. For now – stay well!


Image – Broad Run Trunk -– Level 13

Volunteer Activity During Government Shutdown

Hello All,

As you have no doubt heard, a budget agreement was not made on December 21 and a partial Government shutdown is in place. The National Park Service is one of the agencies impacted by the shutdown.

Guidance was provided by the National Park Service before the shutdown went into effect and all volunteer duties are halted until the shutdown ends.

Volunteers are not allowed to serve in their volunteer capacity and the normal protections such as liability coverages are suspended. Note that the C&O Canal Association does NOT carry separate liability coverage for volunteer activity.

Volunteers will follow the same schedule as furloughed NPS employees and must follow the same restrictions as NPS employees. This includes not accessing closed federal buildings and not using any federal equipment or property, such as vehicles, computers or mobile phones, maintenance equipment or educational props.

Volunteers must not wear any NPS volunteer uniform or NPS volunteer logo item during this time.

During a shutdown, NPS staff will not be in communication with volunteers, and will not be able to check email or phone messages.

While I have not heard of any closure of part or all of the park, we are expected to observe all closure notices and not cross any barricades or area closed postings.

When the Government closure ends you can resume normal activities unless notified otherwise.

Thank you for your cooperation during this time.


Above – Lock 70, Level 63, November 13, 2018

C&O Canal NHP Storm Conditions – 11 September 2018

Level Walkers,

The following message is from the C&O Canal NHP. Please heed all cautions both before, during and after the storm.  Water levels are already high. It is important that we follow their guidance because conditions can be very dangerous due to localized flooding, loose or undermined earth, or tree issues.   Your safety is more important than your work as volunteers.

As noted below, the park is the best source for information. Visit http://go.nps.gov/choh_conditions as noted below or follow the park on Facebook @chesapeakeandohiocanal.

The park will be looking for volunteers to help prepare for the storm.  Contact one of the visitor centers (contact info is on the contacts page of Along the Towpath) for local volunteer requirements. Also, if you are interested in helping prepare Lockhouse 6 for the storm on Wednesday, 9/12, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., call 301-745-8888 or further information

Like you, I hope our park avoids serious damage from this storm. Be safe! The guidance from the park follows.

BT

Due to the flood impact we are expecting and experiencing, volunteers should not be on the towpath at this time. However, we can use their help at park access points providing safety messages to visitors. VIPs must report in and out to their District Volunteer Coordinator.

As of 10:00 am, September 11, 2018

Increased rainfall and rising river level in the area has caused sections of C&O Canal NHP to close. Sections of the canal and towpath may become flooded and trap visitors. Do not attempt to cross washouts or high water areas. High winds and wet soils can cause trees and branches to fall.

Volunteers must receive specific instructions from their District Volunteer Coordinator before entering the park.

All visitors encouraged to use caution; hikers and bikers are encouraged to seek alternatives.

For the most updated information, please refer to: http://go.nps.gov/choh_conditions

Level Walker Updates

Hello Level Walkers,

As the Association’s annual meeting approaches, I look forward to seeing some of you there.  If you need a level walker hat or have any questions, it will be a good time to catch up with me. If you have any questions about the annual meeting, please contact me.

If you are out there on the towpath, please keep in mind that icy conditions can persist even when it is above freezing, and tree limbs are prone to falling this time of year.  I observed both of these conditions first hand on Friday – though I did have the towpath all to myself!

The following updates are from the National Park Service.  The Weverton access change is a concern for many of us, and I don’t know if there will be any kind of work-around. I will update you if I hear anything on that.

Thanks for all you do!

Volunteer Program Assessment. The park is conducting an assessment of the volunteer program.  The park will use this information to improve the volunteer program.  The deadline to respond to the assessment is February 28th.
You will need to enter your name and email address to complete the survey.  This is so the park can follow up for more information if needed.
The survey is available at: https://goo.gl/forms/bhIOtPFeek58lVc13
Weverton Railroad Crossing (near Harpers Ferry). CSX has notified the Park that the railroad crossing at Weverton (off of Keep Tryst Road) is to be only used by CSX personnel. There is no longer access from the parking lot at Weverton to the C&O Canal towpath or Appalachian Trail.
Both the AT and the National Capital Region are aware of the change of status.  Private crossing signs have been installed and trains are not required to sound horns. Trains go through this area very rapidly and it is an unprotected crossing, making it a safety hazard!
Special Events at Great Falls:
  • Great Falls Tavern is hosting a pop up exhibit during the month of February called “What Would You Do To Be Free?” focusing on the stories of runaway slaves on the Canal
  • Feb 17 – VIP Speaker Series: Great Backyard Bird Count (9:00-11:00)
  • Feb 18 – Annual George Washington Ball with music and dancing (1:00-4:00)
  • Feb 25 – Presentation on the African-American CCC at the C&O Canal (12:00-1:00)
  • March 10 – VIP Speaker Series: Aqueducts of the C&O Canal (2:00-3:00)
  • March 18 – Irish Laborers on the C&O Canal (1:00-2:00)
  • March 24 – VIP Speaker Series: Grand Old Ditch (2:00-3:00)
  • March 25 – Women’s Life and Work on the C&O Canal (1:00-3:00)
  • March 31 – Northern Virginia Mountain Dulcimers (12:30-3:00)

Above – Culvert 93, Israel Creek, at Weverton,  January 20, 2018

Congressionally Mandated Senior Pass Price Increase to Take Effect on August 28

Hello Level Walkers,

I have some items of interest to pass on to you from the National Park Service. Because of the length of the items I am splitting these up in to separate blogs.  This one is of particular interest if you are over 62 and have not gotten your lifetime National Park pass yet. – LWC


WASHINGTON – In order to meet requirements set by legislation passed by Congress in December 2016, the price of the America the Beautiful – National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Senior Pass will increase from $10 to $80. The change will take effect August 28, 2017. Pass holders are given lifetime access to more than 2,000 sites and parks. The fee increase will support critical investments in maintenance projects at national parks and federal recreational lands nationwide.

The Senior Pass has cost $10 since 1994. Until August 28, U.S. citizens and permanent residents who are 62 years or older can purchase the lifetime Senior Pass for $10. Previously purchased lifetime Golden Age or Senior Passes will be honored for the lifetime of the pass holder.

The Senior Pass can be used at sites managed by the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Forest Service, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Funds from passes are used to enhance the visitor experience and support priority projects and programs.

The pass can be purchased for $10 before August 28 at a national park or other Federal recreation area that charges an entrance or standard amenity (day use) fee. The pass can also be obtained by mail or on line, for $10 before August 28 but there will be an additional $10 charge for processing, for a total of $20. Due to expected high order volume, there could be delays with online and mail order processing of up to several months.

The legislation requires that the price of the lifetime Senior Pass be the same as the Interagency Annual Pass, which is currently $80. The legislation also introduces a new annual Senior Pass that can be purchased for $20. Seniors who purchase annual Senior Passes for four years can trade them in for a lifetime Senior Pass at no additional charge.

The Senior Pass covers all entrance fees and standard amenity (day use) fees and may provide senior discounts for things such as tours or campsites. The pass also waives the entrance fee for traveling companions. At per-vehicle fee sites, the pass admits the pass holder and all passengers in a noncommercial vehicle. At a per-person fee site, the pass admits the pass holder and three other adults. Children under 16 are always admitted free.


Above photo – Culvert 116, Marsh Run – Levels 31/32 – June 17, 2017

Paw Paw Tunnel Closure

Hello!

This is short and sweet, but info you should have if you plan to visit Western Maryland.

I mentioned in an earlier blog that the Paw Paw Tunnel is closing for a while. I received word today that it is closing on June 2. This closure is important; it is so the National Park Service can conduct the Paw Paw Rock Slope Remediation project, which benefits both the integrity of the towpath and towpath user safety. 

All thru-traffic will use the bypass trail (Tunnel Hill trail) for the duration of the project. Currently the contractor is projecting that the project should be completed around the end of September 2017.

I will send you updates as they are available!

Switching hats to the Editor hat – the June Along the Towpath is nearly finished!  There’s lots of great stuff in it, so be sure to take a look when it shows up in mid-June.

Photo – Paw Paw Tunnel in existing light, May 31, 2013 – Level 58

Trash and Invasive Plants

Catchy title, right? Hopefully you take the time to read this, because they are important topics.

Trash – we all love it – generally not!  I will say I found a $20 bill once amongst the trash; had a nice lunch that day!  Beyond that, I am not a fan of trash. Invasive plants – likely to strike up a healthy debate among many Association members.

The National Park Service appreciates what we do, rest assured of that.  However, they are seriously understaffed, especially in the maintenance area.  They have their hands full maintaining the towpath, structures and facilities.  They aren’t able to get out on the towpath as much as they would like, and they are also trying to reduce the amount of driving they do on the towpath to minimize the impact of truck traffic on the towpath.

For this reason, The NPS has asked me to request that you limit the amount of trash that you pick up to what you can haul off.  If you leave a pile of trash or debris along the towpath or at a site, it could be days before they can get to it.  In that event it becomes an eyesore for visitors and a source of complaints. We also don’t want to add to their already high workload. I recommend that you focus on the trash on the towpath and most visible; we can only do so much.

As with all National Park Service policies, I ask that you respect them and follow the policies and guidance passed on the NPS.

The second part of this message is passed on by the National Park Service, and pertains to a training opportunity related to invasive plants.  This message is passed on by Cyrus Chimento, the new Invasive Plants and Restoration Volunteer Coordinator at the C&O Canal National Historical Park, taking over from Kristi Shelton.  Those of us who met or worked with Kristi know that she is yet another one of the park’s amazing interns; she asked us to monitor emerald ash borer damage last year. I look forward to working with Cyrus as well. The message follows:


This past year, the Kristi has worked to reinvigorate C&O Canal NHP’s Weed Warrior program. This program teaches and certifies volunteers to maintain the natural vegetation of the C&O Canal by removing non-native invasive plants throughout the park. The C&O Canal is home to many different ecosystems and hundreds of rare, threatened and endangered species, so controlling the spread of invasive species is a critical effort that the park needs the support of volunteers to carry out. 

I wanted to extend an invitation to any volunteers in your programs that might be interested in helping to manage the vegetation along the canal to attend the Weed Warriors Training session. I am holding the Weed Warriors Training session on Friday, May 5th, 2017 at Great Falls Tavern, from 9:30am to 1:30pm. 

The training will start with a presentation indoors and, following a lunch break, some time outside around the Tavern for demonstrations and IDs. Those that complete the training will receive certification to remove specific invasive species in their chosen section of the park, Volunteer Service Agreements, and access to online resources compiled for specific species and sections of the park.There is limited space so please let us know as soon as possible if want to attend (RSVP below). The parking fee at Great Falls Tavern will be waived for those attending this training.

RSVP: chohweedwarrior@gmail.com

Volunteers who attend training should bring:

  • Lunch
  • Sturdy shoes suitable for the outdoors
  • Sturdy clothes suitable for the outdoors
  • Water
  • Sun protection

Photo – Culvert 141 outflow with flora – native or invasive?; June 1, 2013 – Level 42