January 2023 Level Walker Update

Hello Level Walkers,

It has come to my attention that the email distribution of this didn’t get to everyone on the first submission – so here it is again. I apologize for any duplication.

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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VIP Speaker Series Update

Hello Level Walkers,

Thanks for your efforts out on the towpath! It’s starting to get busy out there. Thanks too for those of you who have responded to me on requests to update your volunteer status and service agreements. I am not always able to respond to emails, but your responses are appreciated.

The NPS passed on some info about the VIP speaker series, it follows below.

Thanks, Steve

The recording for Dr. Ball’s recent presentation about Abner Cloud House is available: – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7tqjcYV0hgI

It will be available for the next month. If you have any questions about Dr. Ball’s research, please let me know and I will send them along to her. 

Also, the May VIP Speaker Series presentation is scheduled for Thursday, May 26 at 12pm, during which Mario Guemez Alonso will be talking about arts & entertainment in national parks. Here is the information to join the Teams call – 

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Thanks! – Emily Durán Hewitt, Volunteer Program Manager, C&O Canal National Historical Park

Level Walker Advisory April 11

Hello Level Walkers,

The NPS asked me to advise you to use following cell phone number to reach dispatch until further notice: 240-469-7281. For life threatening emergencies call 911.

Also, over the past two weeks I have been contacting each active level walker individually. Thanks to all who have responded! If you have not heard from me please contact me. If you have received an email and not responded yet, please do so when you get a chance.

As always, thanks for your support of the C&O Canal NHP!


What is a Level?

The answer really depends on who you are talking to!

During the recent C&O Canal Association annual meeting, the NPS provided an excellent summary of projects planned or in progress on the park.  The NPS references park project sites by the level they are located on.

After the presentation, some level walkers commented to me that it was a great presentation, but the park had the wrong levels for the project locations.  My response – the park is 100% correct, and so are the level walkers. There are two kinds of levels! One is used by level walker volunteers and the other is used by the NPS.

Level Walkers in the canal era were employees who monitored a canal level and ensured that there were no problems that inhibited operation of the canal – including leaks and blockages. Level Walkers in the C&O Canal Association program are volunteers who monitor the level they are assigned to. They monitor the conditions of the towpath and structures, pick up trash, remove light tree debris and report any issues.

The C&O Canal Association Level Walker program was originally founded in 1960. For a bit of history about the program visit https://candocanal.org/atp/1960-03.pdf and view the predecessor of our Along the Towpath quarterly publication.

The initial number of levels in the Association program was 69 and they really haven’t changed. I’ve heard that factors determining the level alignments and numbers may have included the number of volunteers, the canal access points that existed at the time, and of parts of the canal that were not traversable. We’ll call these the “Association levels.”

With the 69 Association levels, the average length is 2.67 miles per level – but it doesn’t work out that evenly. Levels lengths range from Level 28, at 1.20 miles, to Level 53, at 5.66 miles. Quite a variation but, as noted, access was and is the key factor. Level walkers appear to be happy with their level assignments. If they do have a long level, they sometimes find ways to do the level in two parts.

In canal and historical terminology, a level is the section of canal between two locks. Visualizing a canal as a stairway, the locks are the risers and the levels are the treads.  When the NPS refers to a level it identifies it by the lock on the downstream end. As an example, Level 37 is the section of towpath above Lock 37.  Call these the “NPS levels.”  There are 75 of them.

This became an interesting bit of research, and I made a table to visualize the differences.  The NPS levels and Association levels are quite different. The NPS levels have an average length of 2.46 miles. They range in length from a mere 4/100ths of a mile on Level 1, to the 13.72 lockless miles of Level 50. 

I consulted with the NPS and they provided some clarifications. The level above Tidelock is called Level 0. The inlet locks at the dams don’t factor in, so the lower lift lock defines the level number – i.e., Level 44 continues to Lock 45, even though it passes Dam 5.  Also, the two “fractional” locks below the Paw Paw Tunnel aren’t used as level numbers – Lock 63 1/3 is the lower end of Level 63; Lock 64 2/3 starts Level 64, and Lock 66 starts Level 65; all the levels numbers above that are offset from the lock number by 1.

Scrolling down the list, the comparisons are interesting. Five levels are exactly the same, although with different numbers, like Association Level 54 and NPS Level 59; both are between Locks 59 and 60. Some long levels in one numbering system span numerous short levels in the other system.  The Association and NPS numbers only agree on one very short place – the 4/100 mile section between Mile 0.38 and 0.42 is Level 1 in both systems.

The differing level numbers can also present potential communications issues. A level walker might see a downed tree near Dargan Bend (around Mile 65) and tell the NPS “There is a tree blocking the towpath on Level 25.”  Level 25 to the NPS would mean Edwards Ferry/Lock 25 (around Mile 31).  So, we should always use mile markers or landmarks for reference to avoid confusion.

Next time you talk about levels, just remember who you are talking to!

Main Image – The towpath near Antietam, which is part of Level 27 to the Association or Level 37 to the NPS

The Catoctin Aqueduct at Mile 51.53 is the lower end of Association Level 20, or just inside of NPS Level 29
While Lock 20 at Mile 14.30 is the lower boundary of NPS Level 20, which is the lower end of Association Level 7.

Upcoming Park Events

Hello Level Walkers!

The following notifications are from the C&O Canal NHP related to upcoming park virtual events.

Thanks, as always, for your support of the park!



March VIP Speaker Series: Overview of the Canal For All Program
Thursday, March 31, 2022 12:00 PM-1:00 PM.

Nanette Nyce will share some of the personal stories of Canal For All with C&O Canal NHP Volunteers as well as seek your insights into helping this wonderful program continue to grow. The Trust’s Canal For All program provides opportunities for education, stewardship, and volunteerism that are safe, welcoming, and inclusive for all.

To foster diversity and to better reflect our community, the program engages BIPOC, differently-abled, LGBTQIA+, and other underrepresented or disadvantaged communities. The Trust partners with community organizations to diminish barriers to participation and to create exciting and relevant opportunities to Play, Learn, Serve, and Work in the C&O Canal National Historical Park. 

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Dear Volunteers, 

In 2022, we are holding quarterly all-volunteer calls to provide you with information and updates about the park. The meetings will be recorded and shared with you afterwards so that if you cannot make the scheduled time, you will still be able to get the info. 

Our 2nd quarterly call is scheduled for Wednesday, April 13 from 10-11:15am and will be held on Microsoft Teams. There is a phone call-in option if you cannot join via computer, however, please note that there will be a slideshow presentation so we encourage you to join via Teams if possible. 

During the April call Andrew Landsman, Natural Resource Program Manager, will be presenting on some of the current natural resources projects taking place in the park. Shelley Albee, Interpretive Ranger, will also highlight some of the recent and ongoing Digital Media projects. Please try to get into the meeting 5-10 minutes early to allow for any troubleshooting or issues. 

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Weather Status – 21 January 2022

Hello Level Walkers,

There is more extreme weather in the forecast, and the NPS has passed on the following advisory:

With below freezing temperatures forecast for January 21, the volunteer program is suspended on Friday. 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 extreme cold weather event. If you choose to visit the park on Friday, January 21 you must do so as a private citizen. 

Thanks, Steve

C&O Canal Updates

Hello Level Walkers,

Some park updates from the C&O Canal volunteer manager follow.

Thanks, Steve

Dear Volunteers, 

At our Virtual Volunteer Appreciation Event, we received questions about the topics below that may be of interest to some of you. If you have further questions, please reach out to your park staff program coordinator. 

  • Update on towpath resurfacing schedule – The towpath resurfacing currently in progress is from Lock 38/Ferry Hill (Mile 72.5) to Big Slackwater (Mile 86.7). The next phase of resurfacing will be from Spring Gap (Mile 173) to Cumberland (Mile 184.5)
  • Update on hazardous tree removal along the towpath – The following areas of the park currently have open contracts for hazardous tree removal:
    • Miles 5 – 10.5
    • Palisades trails including Billy Goat & Gold Mine, and Great Falls Tavern area
    • Miles 30.84 – 39.63
    • Miles 64.8 – 72.8
    • Miles 106 – 117
    • Miles 173 – 184
  • Update on reopening of visitor centers – Visitor centers in the park will tentatively open in 2022 pending the status of community transmission levels of COVID-19. There will be COVID-19 mitigation strategies in place when they reopen.
  • Update on location of the Williamsport visitor center – Planning is underway to rehab the Cushwa Warehouse and the Trolley Barn to improve the visitor experience at both. The location of the VC will continue to be the Cushwa Warehouse until improvements are made to the Trolley Barn in the future. 
  • Update on the low water passage at the washout at MM 52.5 – At the low water crossing for culvert 82, the park has an inter-agency agreement with eastern federal lands federal highway administration to bundle a new bridge up on the towpath with three other bridges in the park. That design is moving forward and will result in construction.
  • Update on log wall and the water level at Widewater – Widewater is currently drawn down to lower levels to avoid the canal filling up near the log wall. This is the high dry laid stone wall that has exhibited multiple sinkholes forming since December 2015. The water along level 14, approximately 4 miles long, needs to be lowered to mitigate the further formation of the sinkholes. The same wall, just upstream of Carderock, near mile marker 11 is currently being progressed forward for construction. The design is expected to be completed early next calendar year, with construction to follow. Construction would not be until late calendar year 2023 or perhaps a little later.
  • Update on desilting the canal between Great Falls and Violettes Lock – This project is planned to take place in the winter of FY23. 

Emily Durán Hewitt

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 Update – October 8

Hello Level Walkers!

Here is a note from the Volunteer Program Manager.

As always, thanks for all you do!


Dear C&O Canal Volunteers, 
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the National Park Service Volunteers-In-Parks program. Unfortunately we are not able to hold the annual Volunteer Appreciation Dinners due to COVID-19. However, we would still like to take this opportunity to thank you for volunteering with the C&O Canal National Historical Park to help preserve park resources and improve visitor experiences. 
We put together a video slideshow to highlight volunteer activities in the park. Special thanks to Kelsey Cooke, Kara Bourland, and Claire Connor for their work on the slideshow. We hope you enjoy it! 
We also have the 2021 park calendar available. Special thanks to Claire Connor for designing another beautiful calendar before the completion of her internship. The calendar is available for pick up from Great Falls, Williamsport, and Cumberland during the following times:

  • Great Falls – Saturdays through November 7th from 10am-3pm – Calendars will be available from staff at the visitor contact table outside the Tavern or call 301-767-3710 when you arrive and staff will come outside
  • Williamsport – Saturdays and Sundays through October from 10am-3pm – Calendars will be available from staff at the visitor contact table outside Cushwa warehouse
  • Cumberland – Please contact Stephanie Siemek for available pick up times. In the near future : Cumberland Visitor Center next Wednesday to Friday from 8AM to 4PM (10/14-10/16). The Visitor Center is still closed; therefore, please call her once you have arrived at (301) 491-2597. 

This has certainly been a strange year, and missing out on the Volunteer Appreciation Dinners this month is no exception. Thank you for your continued support of the C&O Canal National Historical Park, and here’s to hoping things will look different in October 2021. 

Stay well,  
Emily Durán Hewitt – Program Manager

C&O Canal Update – July 29

Hello Level Walkers,

Here is the latest update from the park.

OBTW – if you have been reactivated you can ignore the note in the below message  – continue to send your hours to me as part of your report and I will submit them.

Thanks for all you do!


Dear Volunteers,
Today is the 50th anniversary of when Public Law 91-357 was enacted to formalize the National Park Service Volunteers-In-Parks program. Happy 50th anniversary! Please see the park Facebook page for a special post about the anniversary. Thank you for being a part of the Volunteers-In-Parks program. We are grateful for your volunteer service!
A reminder that if your program has been re-activated and you are volunteering, please remember to log your hours. It’s been an odd year for sure, but the park will still be required to submit a volunteer report at the end of the fiscal year. Please help us submit an accurate report by logging your volunteer hours.
Finally, please see the attached summer volunteer newsletter. It is full of great content. A huge thanks to Claire for pulling the VIP Newsletter Summer 2020 together before completing her internship!
Thanks & stay well!
Emily Durán Hewitt

Image – Summer morning view from Lookout Point