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:


Volunteers,

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


Colleagues,

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!

Steve


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.

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