Water Availability on the C&O Canal

Hello Level Walkers,

The NPS has provided guidance regarding water availability on the C&O Canal NHP.

Thanks for your support, Steve

Starting in spring 2023, the well water in hiker-biker campsites will be signed non-potable. Water from wells at paid campgrounds will remain potable and safe for drinking, cooking, or washing.  

 Why the change? 

We want to ensure that there is a more reliable water source year-round for visitors in the park and that the drinking water that is provided is as safe as it can possibly be, especially considering that our wells are in a flood zone. 

The park will maintain potable water in a targeted number of wells in fee campgrounds. However, as a general precaution for wells located in a flood zone, you are advised to boil or treat the water before use for your own protection. Well handles will be removed from fee campgrounds in mid-November to protect against freeze as we normally do. 

For hiker-biker campgrounds, the wells will be signed as non-potable and we ask that visitors bring their own water supply or water sanitizing equipment to treat well water before use. The wells will remain in operation in hiker-biker campgrounds year-round. As long as visitors bring their own sanitization equipment there will be a more reliable water source, as handles will not be removed from these wells.  

What about water in park buildings? 

Visitor Centers, park buildings, and comfort stations are provided water by the nearby municipality and do not require drinking water sampling by the park. Please note that the Swains Lock campsite draws on the same municipal water as the Swains Lockhouse and will remain potable.  

How can visitors purify non-potable water? 

  • Treat it! Use water purification tablets. The purification tablets — which contain iodine, halazone, or chlorine — kill most waterborne bacteria, viruses, and some (but not all) parasites. Over time purification tablets lose their potency, so keep your supply fresh.  
  • Filter it! Because some parasites — such as Cryptosporidium parvum, Giardia lamblia, and larger bacteria — are not killed by purification tablets, you should also use a water filter. 
  • Boil it! Boiling will kill microorganisms. First, bring water to a rolling boil, and then continue boiling for at least 1 minute. Before heating, muddy water should be allowed to stand for a while to allow the silt to settle to the bottom – dip the clear water off the top and boil. 

Water purification tablets, filters, and sanitizing tablets can be purchased at camping supply stores. 

So where can visitors find water in the park?

A list of wells across the park is available on  our website

Drive-In Campsites: Well water within the drive-in campsites is potable and treated with iodine – do NOT drink if you have any iodine allergies or if you are on medication for an overactive thyroid. In general, well water is clean and able to be used without additional treatment. However, as a general precaution for wells located in a flood zone, you are advised to boil or treat the water before use for your own protection. 

Hiker-Biker Campsites: Non-potable water is available in hiker-biker campsites. Please plan to filter, chemically treat, or boil the water before use for your own protection. 

 Please encourage visitors to always have a water plan! 

Water availability is subject to change. Always plan accordingly and bring plenty of water with you as a backup option. 

 Where can visitors find more information about water in the park? 

Information about water is listed on multiple pages of our website (we always try to repeat important information to help visitors find what they are looking for no matter what page they initially load). 

 Our main Current Conditions page lists the status of all wells in the park: https://www.nps.gov/choh/planyourvisit/conditions.htm 

Water information can also be found on the following webpages: 

Additionally, water information is listed on the NPS app and each well has a sign informing visitors if the water is potable or non-potable. 

Volunteer Activity Suspension and Wildflower Walk

Hello Level Walkers,

Two notices from the park follow. Please note the suspension of volunteer activities on Saturday. When activities are suspended your volunteer service agreement is invalid for the time of the suspension and you are not authorized to perform volunteer work or protected in the event of injury. If ou choose to visit the park during that time you are doing so at your own risk.

Thanks for all you do – Steve

There is currently a high wind watch from Saturday 8am until Sunday 2am for portions of central & western Maryland and D.C. The forecast is calling for winds up to 65 mph. When the wind reaches 30 mph, volunteers are required to stand down. Therefore, outdoor volunteer operations for Saturday, April 1st are suspended. 

Please keep an eye on the weather forecast on Saturday and plan accordingly. Volunteer operations may resume on Sunday, April 2nd if wind speeds (including gusts) have fallen below 30 mph. If you have any questions, please contact your program coordinator. 

Thank you and stay safe!

Sarah Brown, the park’s Biological Science Technician, is offering a wildflower hike for volunteers. Space is limited and you will need to sign-up. Here is the information – 

 VIP Speaker Series – Wildflower Hike at Ferry Hill

DATE: April 14, 2023

TIME: 10am – 12pm

LOCATION: Ferry Hill in Sharpsburg, MD

DESCRIPTION: A guided hike along the Ferry Hill trail and towpath with Sarah Brown to look for and learn about wildflowers and pollinators. Please wear appropriate hiking shoes and bring water. The Ferry Hill trail is not flat, so volunteers must be able to walk down hill and uphill. The hike will last approximately 2 hours. 

TO SIGN-UP: This opportunity is limited to 15 volunteers, and you must sign-up to attend. Please email emily_hewitt@nps.gov noting your volunteer program and the area of the park where you volunteer. 

DEADLINE: You must email by April 8th to sign-up. 

Volunteer Meeting Notes

Hello Level Walkers,

The following notes are from the 8 February Volunteer meeting.

Thanks for your support! – Steve

Dear Volunteers, 

On February 8, we held our 1st quarterly volunteer call. Hopefully some of you were able to make it, but for those who could not attend, here are some updates that Christiana provided. I have also attached the organizational chart for the division of Interpretation, Education, and Volunteers, since we have some new staff members. If you have questions about park operations, please contact me.

  • The park recently kicked off the process of creating a Development Concept Plan (DCP) for the Great Falls area. This will be a lengthy process and there will be a time in the future for community input. We will update volunteers as the process continues. 
  • The park is finalizing a Detail to fill the Great Falls Interpretive Supervisor (the position previously held by Pete Peterson who has retired).  We anticipate this 120-day detail will start this spring and be here through the summer. We are working with HR to advertise this position in order to find a long-term new supervisor. 
  • Education Interns – we have 2-3 interns who will come on in late February/early March to support the park’s K-12 school program. 
  • Interpretation Interns – we are currently hiring five 6-month interns and three year-long interns to support interpretive programs.  Interns will work out of Great Falls, Williamsport, and Cumberland and help with things like boat programs, Visitor Center operations, and public programs.
  • Georgetown’s outdoor visitor services have paused until spring and the VC is still under construction. 
  • Great Falls VC is open 5 days a week.  
  • Williamsport and Cumberland VCs are closed until March 4th.  They will reopen on Saturdays and Sundays. We are increasing staffing with interns and volunteers and will expand hours as staffing capacity increases. 
  • The Brunswick Heritage Museum (the park VC is housed inside the museum) is closed until March 18th.
  • The park continues working with local stakeholders to stand up visitor center operations in Hancock. 
  • Upcoming interpretive programming includes the FY23 season for the boats in Williamsport, Great Falls, and Georgetown (operated through our partner Georgetown Heritage), angler programs throughout the park, bike safety-focused programs, lock demonstrations, Meet the Mules programs, the Trails and Rails program, and many more!  Keep an eye on the park calendar for the latest schedule.   
  • For maintenance project updates, keep an eye on the Park Project page or the park’s social media accounts.  You can follow the park on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/chesapeakeandohiocanal  

Thank you, 

Emily Durán Hewitt

January 2023 Level Walker Update

Hello Level Walkers,

I hope 2023 is off to a great start for you! Like you, I am looking forward to another year of supporting the park.

One of my duties as the level walker chairperson is to monitor compliance with NPS and C&O Canal Association policies. For the NPS policies, I need to ensure that you are up-to-date on any NPS training and job requirements and have a current Volunteer Service Agreement on file. All current volunteers have completed the training/job requirements. The VSAs that were submitted in 2022 or later are still valid. At the present time I have not been informed of a need to update them for 2023. If you missed doing an updated VSA in 2022 I will be checking with you.

The Association requires level walker program participants to be current members and to submit at least one level walk report per year. I will review membership status and level walker activity in February. If your membership has lapsed and/or I have not received a recent report from you I will be in touch to determine if you want to remain in the program.

The NPS will have an all-volunteer call on February 8 as noted in the following announcement. You may note that the level walker program is not directly called out in the Volunteer Program Action Plan. The program is directly managed by the C&O Canal Association, although we are expected to comply with NPS training, certification and regulatory requirements. I coordinate management and reporting of the level walker program directly with the NPS volunteer manager at headquarters.

Thanks for your support! – Steve

Dear Volunteers, 

Happy new year! In 2023, we are holding quarterly all-volunteer calls to provide you with information and updates about the park. We started these virtual meetings because of the pandemic, but have found that it is a great way to connect with volunteers across the park at one time. 

Our 1st quarterly call is scheduled for Wednesday, February 8 from 11:30am-12:45pm and will be held on Microsoft Teams. There is a phone call-in option if you cannot join via computer.

During the call, our staff will introduce themselves and there are many new faces! We will review theVolunteer Program Action Plan and make sure volunteers know what to expect in FY23. Christiana Hanson, Chief of IEV, will be on hand to answer questions. Please try to get into the meeting 5-10 minutes early to allow for any troubleshooting or issues. 

Thanks, and we look forward to “seeing” you on February 8.


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C&O Canal NHP Weather Advisory 16 and 17 January

The NPS has issued the following advisory for volunteers.

Thanks, Steve

Dear Volunteers, 
With the wintry weather forecast, the volunteer program is suspended on Sunday, January 16 and Monday, January 17. The park will be open to the public, but volunteers are not authorized to work in the park. This is to ensure your safety during the inclement weather event. All staff in the division of Interpretation, Education, and Volunteers will be teleworking and only emergency staff will be onsite. 
If you choose to visit the park on Sunday and Monday, you must do so as a private citizen. For updates on any park closures please check the park website or the park Facebook page

Thank you and stay safe!
Emily Durán Hewitt

Update on C&O Canal Emergency Volunteer Activity Suspension

Hello Level Walkers,

The NPS advises that at the present time volunteer activities are still suspended. Please note the following emergency guidance.

Thanks, Steve

Message from Safety Officer:


As you know, the watershed for the Potomac River received a lot of rain yesterday and the Potomac River is rapidly rising.   We expect minor flooding in many sections of the park.

Please do not let the sunshine and mild conditions today reduce your situational awareness.  There are many hazards out there.

Many trees are damaged and the ground is soaked.  As a result, some trees may fail suddenly and without warning and many trees may fall over due to root ball heave.

One of the biggest dangers today will be the rapid river rise.  The Potomac River at Paw Paw rose 16 feet in less than 12 hours!!!   As you know, many sections of the towpath will flood on the upstream and downstream portions and it is very easy to become stranded due to rapidly rising waters.  The river is near crest level at Paw Paw and is expected to crest at Little Falls on Friday around 6 PM.

Please avoid using the towpath.

Thank you and be safe.

John G. Adams, CSP

Safety Officer

C&O Canal NHP Mask Use Update

Hello Level Walkers,

Here is the latest guidance from the National Park Service on mask use on federal lands.

Thanks, Steve

Dear Volunteers, 

The Department of Interior (DOI) has updated the guidance for mask usage. This update is relevant to park volunteers as well as federal employees. Those who are fully vaccinated (at least 2 weeks past the final dose) are no longer required to wear a mask in federal buildings and on federal lands. See the full guidance in the forwarded email below.

DOI has not provided updated guidance to physical distancing requirements, so please continue to maintain physical distance from those outside your household while volunteering in the park. We will update you on any changes as we receive more information from DOI. 

Please note that even if fully vaccinated you are welcome to continue masking at your own discretion, but it is no longer a requirement for vaccinated individuals. It is the park’s priority to maintain the safety of our volunteers, staff, partners, and visitors. Please let your park staff program supervisor know if you have any questions about this new guidance. 

Thank you and stay well,
Emily Durán Hewitt

Volunteer Program Manager C&O Canal National Historical Park


Consistent with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s May 13 announcement regarding updated Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People, fully vaccinated federal employees, fully vaccinated onsite contractors, and fully vaccinated visitors to federal buildings and federal lands are no longer required to wear masks. 

For now, this change related to masking is the only change to federal workplace COVID-19 safety guidance – maximum telework and workplace occupancy limits remain in place – but we will continue to update based on public health guidance. 

To clarify what this announcement means for individuals:

  • If you are fully vaccinated (at least 2 weeks past your final dose), you are no longer required to wear a mask.
  • If you are not fully vaccinated (less than 2 weeks past your final dose), please continue to wear a mask consistent with the requirements set forth in the DOI Workplace Safety Plan.

These changes are consistent with Executive Order 13991 on Protecting the Federal Workforce and Requiring Mask-Wearing, which charged federal agencies to “require compliance with CDC guidelines with respect to wearing masks” and with OMB memorandum M-21-15, which noted in its guidance on face masks that “agencies may provide for exceptions consistent with CDC guidelines.”

The Department will be updating its Workplace Safety Plan and related documents to reflect these changes. If you have any questions, please contact your servicing Human Resources Office.

Rachael S. Taylor

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary-Policy, Management and Budget

National Park Service Mask Guidance

Hello Level Walkers,

The following National Park Service.information is passed on from Emily Hewitt, the C&O Canal NHP Volunteer program manager.

Thanks for your support!


Dear Volunteers,

On January 20, 2021, President Biden signed Executive Order No. 13991. To protect the health of those who live, work, and visit our national parks and facilities, and in support of the President’s Executive Order on Protecting the Federal Workforce and Requiring Mask-Wearing, face masks are now required in all National Park Service (NPS) buildings and facilities. Masks are also required on NPS-managed lands when physical distancing cannot be maintained, including narrow or busy trails, overlooks, and historic homes. This mask requirement includes NPS volunteers, staff, contractors, and the general public. Masks are not a replacement for physical distancing. Please continue to maintain at least 6 feet of distance between you and those not in your household while volunteering.

When they are required (inside park facilities and outside when physical distancing is not possible) masks must cover the nose and mouth and meet CDC and OSHA guidance. For employees and volunteers, Department of Interior (DOI) will not allow novelty/non-protective masks, masks with ventilation valves, face shields as a substitute for masks, or masks with messages or graphics that DOI prohibits. 

The NPS and the park will continue to provide information to the public and our volunteers as new guidance comes out. The park has already shared NPS messaging on our Facebook page and the NPS issued a news release. The park will also be posting signs in key locations. Please remember that a volunteer’s role is NOT to enforce regulations. It is acceptable to politely inform a visitor one time that masks are now required in national parks when physical distancing is not possible, but if a visitor does not comply, prioritize your own safety by maintaining physical distance and moving away from the individual. Again, volunteers are not authorized to enforce regulations. 

Please let us know if you have any questions. Thank you for your service to the park, and please stay safe.

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.


Image – Dam 4 in autumn – Level 32