C&O Canal Volunteer Operations Status Update

Hello Level Walkers,

The latest status update for operations on the C&O Canal follows. This is provided by the Volunteer Manager. If you go out there please be careful.



The park’s Chief Ranger has given the OK to resume volunteer program operations on Friday, September 3rd. However, water levels are still rising so please avoid areas that are prone to flooding such as McMahons, Dam 4, Culvert 82, etc. For a list of current closures and park condition updates, please check the C&O Canal NHP website alerts page – 
All visitors are encouraged to use caution. Even once the rain stops, conditions in the park may still change quickly. Do not attempt to cross washouts or high-water areas. Remain aware of rising water levels in the Potomac River and neighboring streams. High water may impact low areas of the park, and conditions may change unexpectedly. Be aware of possible debris on the towpath, flooding, washouts, and falling trees.

Thank you and stay safe!

Emily Durán Hewitt

C&O Canal Volunteer Status – November 13

Hello Level Walkers,

The following updated is provided by the C&O Canal NHP Volunteer Program Manager Emily Hewitt regarding volunteer activity. As noted, please conduct your activities as safely as possible, or put them on hold if you are concerned about the increase in Covid-19 transmission.

Thanks, Steve

The park is monitoring the rise in coronavirus cases in Maryland & D.C. Currently reactivated volunteers will remain active but are asked to use prudence when considering whether to volunteer in the park. Areas of the park that see high visitation should be avoided during this rise in coronavirus cases. The park understands if any active volunteers wish to pause their volunteering due to health concerns. For all active volunteers, the park strongly recommends that they wear a face covering. Volunteers must also maintain a minimum of 6 feet of distance from other people.  

C&O Canal Update – August 5th


I hope everyone got through the storm without problems. Here’s an update from the park.

Thanks, Steve

Dear Volunteers,

The park fared pretty well during Tropical Storm Isaias. A number of trees did come down in the park, and both Billy Goat Trails A & C are closed due to fallen trees that will be cleared by park staff as soon as possible. When those trails reopen, the park will update the alerts page on the website.

If you decide to visit the park this week, be aware and stay safe. Check the park Facebook page before your visit for the latest conditions.

Stay well,  Emily Durán Hewitt

Image – hazard downed tree on the canal – photographer and location not identified

Cold Weather Activity on the Canal

Hello Level Walkers,

You’ve probably noticed – it’s been a bit on the cold side lately! Even though it is going to warm up next week, winter is by no means over and the cold may well come back.  Many hibernate in the winter, but some of us still get out there in the winter.  A few, like me, actually prefer the winter months on the canal.

If you are one of those who gets out there, the NPS wants us to be safe.  The following advice for safe activities on the canal is provided by the NPS.

Have fun if you get out there, but be careful!


As the Park begins to resume normal operations  we are in need of your Volunteer support more than ever. Unfortunately this becomes a little difficult with all of the snow and arctic temperatures we are experiencing right now. However, we know our volunteers are extremely motivated and have some of the best ‘can do’ attitudes around, so if you are going outside in theses conditions please be safe! Although parts of the park may resemble a winter wonderland it is still important to be aware of the risks exposure can cause and take precautions to protect yourself. Here is a list of some important tips to keep in mind while working outside in winter weather:

  • Layer clothing to accommodate for changes in weather.
  • Wear synthetic fabrics close to the skin. If conditions are wet, wear waterproof or water-repellent clothing (wet clothing loses 90 percent of its insulating value).
  • Protect the ears, face, hands, and feet in extremely cold or wet weather.
  • Boots should be waterproof and insulated.
  • Brush off snow regularly to avoid moisture.
  • Drink warm, non-alcoholic, caffeine-free liquids and warm solid foods to maintain fluid levels and preserve body heat.
  • Use the buddy system − work in pairs to ensure each other’s safety.
  • Seek shelter at regular intervals to rest and warm up.
  • Include chemical hot packs in your first aid kit.
  • Workers showing any signs or symptoms of overexposure should immediately come out of the cold.
  • Use extreme caution if you suffer from a health condition, are taking medication or are in poor physical condition. You may be at increased risk.

Upper Image – Culvert 140, Level 42, March 7, 2015

Safety graphics courtesy of the NPS




C&O Canal NHP Storm Conditions – 13 September 2018

The C&O Canal NHP advises that, due to the lightened forecast of hurricane Florence, volunteer duties in the Park can resume as normal. Conditions are still not optimal and there are risks that should be considered if you choose to venture out on the towpath. As always, your efforts as level walkers are purely optional and you should consider the risks you may take out there. There will be plenty of time for level walks later, when conditions improve.

Check for the most up to date conditions, closures and safety warnings at http://go.nps.gov/choh_conditions or Facebook @chesapeakeandohiocanal before venturing out.

The following guidance is provided by the park safety officer outlining some things to look out for post storm.

Falling Trees

  • Due to the extremely wet spring and summer, the ground is completely saturated and does not have its normal ability to hold tree root balls in place. As a result, large and small trees are falling over without any wind or for any other reason.
  • Avoid traveling under a tree canopy if you can.
  • Do not stop or rest under trees that are leaning. These are more prone to falling over due to ground failure.
  • Look for bulges in the ground around the base of trees. If you see a bulge, notify the park via the dispatch number 866-877-6677 or the hazard warning email CHOH_Hazards@nps.gov
  • If the wind begins to pick up, get off the towpath and away from any trees.

Towpath Travel

  • The towpath is very wet and some area may be covered with slippery mud due to recent flooding.
  • If you are unfamiliar with the section of towpath, this is not the time to explore. If you must go, take an experienced person with you. Again, if you are unsure, stay off the towpath.
  • Make sure someone is aware of your destination and is responsible for ensuring your safe return.


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.


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

Flooding on the C&O Canal

Hello Level Walkers,

As you know, persistent and heavy rains have occurred frequently over the last few weeks. This has created flood conditions on parts of the C&O Canal. Floods can create a number of issues in the park, and visitors are urged to take great care in the time after this and any future floods. Towpath instability is often not immediately apparent, and sink holes or collapses can occur in the period after flood conditions. The areas around culverts and bridges can be unstable, and often streams undermine the soil around their edges. The National Park Service responds as quickly as they can to assess and repair conditions, as well as to prepare alternate trails and markers, but this effort can take a great deal of time.

There is a significant breach on Mile 52, where Culvert 82 washed out. There may be other breaches or damage when this latest flood recedes. Please pay close attention to conditions and  follow park regulations and warning signs.  No level walk or photograph is worth risking your safety for.

When planning a trip on the canal, visitors should visit the park web site http://www.nps.gov/choh/index.htm or visit the park Facebook site @chesapeakeandohiocanal for the most up-to-date information. The park responds quickly to questions posted on Facebook. The park is the best source of information because third party sources may post inaccurate or out-dated information. Safety hazards can be reported by calling 866-677-6677 or by using the hazard reporting system http://www.nps.gov/choh/safetyhazardsreportingsystem.htm.

The NPS has advised of the following closures until further notice:

1. All boat ramps

2. All campsites (HBOs and Drive In)

3. All lockhouses

4. All through-riders, hiking and biking

5. Harpers Ferry has closed the pedestrian bridge over the Potomac River (Access to the Towpath and Appalachian Trail).

6. Many parts of the towpath are washed out or have breaches.  Please use caution throughout the park.

7. And of course never, ever try to cross a flooded section.

Level Walker Safety and Volunteer Calendar Photo Submissions

Hello Level Walkers,

It’s hard to believe it is spring, especially with the treat Nature presented us with the first day of spring. Despite the persistent cold, I am already seeing increased level walks.  Thank you for that!

With the onset of the canal season this is a good time to review safety practices.  I will be sending out some general safety reminders in the near future, but for now there are a couple of new potential safety issues that the Park Service wants us to consider when we are out there.

If you come across what appears to be a homeless camp, occupied or unoccupied, during your level walks, do not investigate it, disturb it or attempt to clean up around it. The risk of bio-hazards and other dangers is too great.  You should call park dispatch to report the camp.

Please be extremely careful when you are picking up trash on the park. There is an increased risk of finding drug user materials or residue. This can expose you to very harmful and toxic chemicals that are being used by drug addicts.  The attached safety alert provides you with some of the dangers of trash pickup and some precautions. If you are unable to read or download the file please contact me at levelwalker@candocanal.org and I will send you a pdf version.

Annual Volunteer Calendar Photo Submissions. The following info is sent by the National Park Service:

We are now accepting photo submissions for the 2019 C&O Canal Calendar!

Photos of all parts of the park, through all four seasons will be included in the calendar. So if you have photos of historic structures, flora/fauna, visitors, volunteers, or just about anything else in the park, please submit them!

Once again this year, we ask that you submit your photos 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_John_Doe.
The deadline for submission is Friday, May 25th, 2018. If your photograph is selected, you will be contacted and credited in the calendar.

Above – Lock 39 detail, Levels 28 and 29, March 8, 2018

Below – Drug Exposure Safety Alert, NPSTrash Pickup and drug exposure

Important Safety Message for March 2, 2018


The following safety message is from the C&O Canal NHP.  Given the high risk of tree damage, this is advice well taken.

Regards, Steve


All C&O Canal offices (including the Great Falls Tavern) are closed today (3/2) due to the high winds. Please do NOT come into the Park today. Trees may come down on the towpath or Great Falls entrance road at any time.

Stay safe and use caution!


Copperheads – They’re Everywhere!

The following note is from the C&O Canal NHP Safety Officer, John Adams. Copperhead sightings and bites have been on the increase this year in Maryland. With a little care the risk can be minimized.  Please read it carefully and heed the safety cautions; especially how to respond to a bite. If you encounter any copperheads (without getting bitten) on your level, let me know and I will inform the park so they can track the areas where copperheads are active. – LWC

The park had a lot of juvenile copperhead snakes in the Palisades Maintenance yard about two years ago and had to hire a pest removal company. This year, a bunch of juvenile copperhead snakes have taken over the mule barn (white garage building by E-House/Ranger Station) at Palisades.  I’ve also been told we have copperhead snakes at the downstream end of Paw Paw Tunnel and I saw approximately five last week in the canal prism to confirm.  Over the past two years, we’ve had several visitors that were bitten by copperhead snakes near the river and on the Billy Goat Trail.

First thing first.  Copperhead snakes are a natural predator and are not to be killed.  They do serve a purpose in getting rid of mice and other small rodents.   Did you know that the white footed mice are the only documented source of Lyme Disease?  The deer tick bites the mouse and acquires the virus and then transmits the virus to humans. So snakes are helpful.  They also eat birds, lizards, other snakes, frogs, and some large insects.

Snakes are looking for two things – shelter and food.  If you take away the food and other items that attract mice, the snakes will leave also.  Also, if you get rid of openings and small spaces for snakes to enter and hide in, they will also find another place to dwell.

Copperhead snakes account for most of the venomous snake bites in the US and bites usually occur when they are stepped on or a person decides to try and pick one up.  You have probably stepped over or passed by countless copperhead snakes in your lifetime and never knew it.  Their first line of defense is to be camouflaged and this works best when they remain still.

If a snake feels threatened, they will bite and you could be injected with venom.  The venom will not typically kill a healthy adult human but it is very painful and can cause serious damage to skin, muscle, and bone tissue.

Prevention is the key.   Avoid areas where copperhead snakes have been sighted.  If you must work in these areas, make sure you have adequate lighting to see all areas and never ever reach into an unknown area or step into an unexplored area.  Use a long pole or rake to clear debris and use extreme caution when picking up items.  Move items cautiously and ensure no snakes are hidden under, behind, or inside objects.  Boots and heavy leather gloves can help minimize bites but may not prevent them.  If you find a snake, you have options.  You can leave the area and call for assistance.  You can allow the snake to escape from the area and go on it’s way.  If you feel comfortable working around snakes, you can relocate them to a wilderness area by picking them up using a long handled flat shovel, rake, snake tongs or other long object.  Use extreme caution and never handle a snake with your hands.

If you are bitten by a snake, this is an emergency condition.

  1. Immediately notify Dispatch (866-677-6677).  You can also notify 911.
  2. Clean the bite area with generous amounts of soap and water.  If water is not available, use an alcohol wipe or antibiotic to clean area.
  3. IMPORTANT:  Remove any rings, jewelry or other items that will bind your your body.  The area will begin to swell quickly and it needs to be free to do so.
  4. Stay calm and wait for transport to the hospital.
  5. Do NOT cut open the wound and try to “suck” out the venom.  It doesn’t work and you will simply make a bad situation even worse.
  6. Do NOT apply ice or tourniquet.  They can cause more damage.
  7. Hospitals in our area do not need to know the snake species so do NOT try to capture the snake and risk getting bit again.  If needed, hospitals will treat all venomous snake bites in our area with the same anti-venom.

As for snake repellents, none have been proven to be effective and appear to be a waste of money and time.  The key is to safely remove the food and shelter and the snakes will move on.

If you see copperhead snakes, please record a description of the area and the date and time.  

Above – Young copperhead on the towpath at Seneca, Level 10, May 30, 2009

Below – Copperhead watching surroundings, and head detail. I warned visitors until it departed the towpath. Many visitors were unaware what it was and didn’t realize it was poisonous; a couple people wanted to pick it up.