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Canoeing, camping and hiking in the Paw Paw bends

It always takes longer than you think, but Mary and I got all packed up and loaded and we were on the river at Paw Paw at about 3:00. What a way to start a “honeymoon”! It was so awesome to set off in a canoe on a beautiful Autumn day knowing that we probably wouldn’t see another soul for a week.

If you think about it, besides the fact that you can’t drink right out of the stream, canoeing this part of the Potomac River is just like going off into the famous Boundary Waters, total wilderness. We were smart this time and we stayed at each of our campsites for more that one day. That makes life so much easier without loading and unloading everyday.

The other advantage of staying in one place is that we had a lot more time to do some hiking and exploring of this remote area. I must say that I was surprised to find some of the best hiking I’ve ever done. Nice vistas, open terrain and plenty of steep challenging climbs.

Mary and I love to observe the flora and fauna when we’re hiking but Green Ridge and the Paw Paw bends are also home to some amazing geological formations and it was so cool to find the fossils of ancient sea creatures in the rocks at the tops of the mountains.

We also discovered several large stone walls of piled-up field stone. Evidence of another time when this area was more densely populated. We also saw a lot of discarded tires, but we won’t mention that.

 

Canal by Canoe 2018 – Honeymoon Edition!

On September 22, 2018, after 7 years of courtin’ on the Potomac River, Joe and I celebrated our “Together Forever” commitment ceremony at the Bumper Car Pavilion at Glen Echo Park. For one lovely, clear night in 2018, it actually stopped raining! We had a wonderful time sharing the evening with our family and friends.

We’re about to embark on our exotic honeymoon. Italy? Costa Rica? Hawaii? Well, no, that ain’t really our style. Since our Canal by Canoe 2018 trip was totally flooded out this spring, we thought we’d just try it again. So we’re off to the Paw Paw Bends on the upper Potomac – again! – for a week of remote, primitive canoe camping.

Wish us luck, and some dry weather. If any of you were hoping it might rain this week, I’m sure we can make your dream come true! 🙂

 

Rare Wildflowers of the Maryland Shale Barrens

One of the coolest things about the upper C&O Canal in the remote Paw Paw Bends area is that it runs right through a Devonian shale barren. This is a rare and fragile ecosystem found only in a tiny sliver of the ridge-and-valley region spanning Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia.

According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources,

“The treasure of shale barrens is not gold or silver. The hidden treasure of the shale barrens is the collection of rare and endemic plants and animals, the unusual geology, the extreme conditions that encourage [us] to unlock the secrets of this rare and forbidding natural community.”

You might have seen one of the most dramatic outcrops of Maryland shale, on the Paw Paw Tunnel boardwalk near Locks 63 1/3 and 64 2/3. Shale is really crumbly! Big chunks of it have been sliding into the Canal ever since the Tunnel was built. In fact, the Tunnel was recently closed for repairs to stabilize the dangerous rockslides in this area.

rockslide

A shale rockslide at the Paw Paw Tunnel.

For plants, shale is hostile, hot, dry, and low in nutrients, which is one reason it’s called a “barren.” Only the strong survive! Lucky for us, these tough plants are also incredibly beautiful. One of the advantages of our “stationary” Canal by Canoe trip this year, has been the chance to slow down and really experience the wonders that are all around us.

There are a few wildflowers that are “endemic” to shale barrens – they don’t grow anywhere else. Check these out – we were lucky to spot them!

 

There’s also a large community of wildflowers that grow in lots of other places, but they really, really like shale barrens. In fact, you can often spot a shale barren by seeing big colonies of these guys along a cliffside or a road.

 

Last but definitely not least, we enjoyed seeing a few old friends that are common in woodlands and roadsides everywhere. These familiar, companionable flowers can make you feel right at home anywhere you travel.

 

And finally, for all you true geology freaks out there, check out the USGS publication “Geology of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park,” a 102-page compendium of everything you EVER wanted to know about ALL the stuff they dug through to create the C&O Canal.

Dry-Canoe-Camping in Green Ridge State Forest!

During the entire 2 weeks of our planned Canal by Canoe adventure, there was not ONE moment when the Potomac River was even low enough for safe day-boating . . . much less shoving off for multiple nights of remote, non-reversible canoe camping, with our usual giant pile of stuff teetering back and forth in the middle of the boat. So our Plan B was primitive camping at Green Ridge State Forest, near the C&O Canal and the areas we were already planning to explore.

View of the flooded and un-canoeable Paw Paw Bends – our original destination – from atop Point Lookout in Green Ridge State Forest.

Our poor canoe stayed on top of the van the entire two weeks! We thought we might find a nearby tributary that was runnable, like Sideling Hill Creek or Fifteen Mile Creek, but no luck. However, we did find this beautiful, private campsite in a remote section of Green Ridge State Forest.

And wow, we saw some cool things. The sulphur springs that Joe described in our last post were really awesome. Right near our campsite, we had a white sulphur spring AND a black sulphur spring? How are they different? What are they used for?

They must have some association with shale barrens, because the famous White Sulphur Springs at the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia also flow out of a rare shale area, Kate’s Mountain. These are mysteries that the Internet hasn’t solved for us yet. Any sulphur experts out there?

black sulphur road

Black Sulphur Road in Green Ridge State Forest was completely washed out by the flash floodwaters of Black Sulphur Run. Joe bushwhacked up to the Black Sulphur Spring in the upper left of the photo, but there wasn’t much to see there.

Also, OMG the shale barrens. This area is a botany nerd’s dream come true! Allegany County MD is home to some of the finest, rarest shale barren ecosystems in the entire United States. Stuff grows here that you’ll just never see anywhere else.

shale cliff

The shale barrens of Allegany County MD, like this cliff along the towpath above Lock 70, are some of the coolest and rarest ecosystems in the United States.

As we were driving around the backcountry dirt roads of Green Ridge, poor Joe kept hearing “Wait! Stop! What was that? I’ll just jump out for a second, be right back.” I have an entire gallery of shale barren rarities to share in the next post, so get ready to geek out with me!

Sulphur Springs in Greenridge State Forest.

There is always more to explore. That’s one of the great things that we’ve learned during our last five years of exploring the C & O canal, the towpath and the Potomac river. After fixing the van and restocking the cooler with ice we headed away from the river and the canal and drove up into the mountains where the primitive campsite were. We wanted to get away from the crowds at Little Orleans and do some relaxing car-camping. Plus, Mary wanted to explore the shale barrens of Greenridge and all of the rare flowers to be found there.

Greenridge is unique in the fact that they have over 100 campsites spread out over a huge area and you can have your own little private section of the forest. We snagged site number 32,  close to a small, but stocked, pond. We were happy to get the site since it was about to be Memorial Day Weekend. The site had a tiny stream running next to it which was great for cooling off. The stream ran down to the pond where it joined a larger creek known as White Sulphur Run. (that’s how they spell sulfur on the map) White Sulphur Run then feeds into Fifteen Mile Creek which empties into the Potomac River after passing under the C & O canal, so we hadn’t strayed too far from our Canal By Canoe mission.

After I tried my luck at fishing in the pond, (they stock it with trout), I broke out the map of hiking trails to look for an afternoon hike. As I studied the map I realized that there was an actual white sulphur spring about a mile upstream from our campsite. I googled white sulphur spring and of course all I got was info about the resort in West Virginia, which sort of got me excited. I could go and “take of the healing waters” just like Thomas Jefferson did back in the day. Put another way, I could go for a hike to find a place where the smell of rotten eggs was coming out of the ground. Either way, I decided that it was a worthy goal for a rainy afternoon in the woods.

There was a dirt road that I could have followed to get to the spring, but it was a long way around so I thought that it would be better to just bushwack directly up along White Sulphur Run to the spring. The sun was out and it was hot and humid when I started up the trail. I hiked upstream for about an hour, hopping over logs and streams and trudging through the rain-soaked weeds. I came to the road near the spring but I followed the wrong branch of the run, which led me into a pleasant meadow, but no spring. I back-tracked and began to zero-in on my destination. I followed the road looking for seeps along the creek until I spied a trickle that seemed to have a white tinge to it. I scrambled down the road bank next to the creek and dropped my pack on the ground. Just at that moment a baby deer jumps up right next to me and starts to run toward the creek. I couldn’t believe it, another fawn, right next to the white sulphur spring! Sure enough, I had found the spring. I didn’t want to taste it but I filled my empty water bottle with the smelly stuff. I wanted to bring it back to camp to prove that I had found the elusive Fountain of Youth ( the fawn I found next to the spring had probably been a full-grown deer the day before) Sulphur Spring.

Strangely, on my hike back home, I came upon yet another tiny fawn sitting balled up on the forest floor. Freaky.

I got back to camp and told Mary all about my adventure and convinced her that we should take a hike to find the other sulphur spring that was nearby. This other spring was a black sulphur spring, which made it even more intriguing. To get to Black Sulphur Run and the spring, we had to climb over the hill to Black Sulphur Road, which was closed because the run had recently flooded and had washed out the culvert over the creek. We found the washed-out stream crossing, and all of the heavy equipment there to repair the culvert, but we were not successful in finding the actual spring. Thankfully, we made it back to camp and had a nice supper before it started to rain again.

The waters of the white sulphur spring

Startled fawn

Car Breaks Down; Universe Delivers Zip Ties!

When the car broke down, we found a pile of zip ties exactly the right size … randomly scattered around a parking lot! Joe’s got stuff all over his back from lying down under the car.

A couple days ago, we were exploring Cliff Road, a remote, rutted dirt track deep inside Green Ridge State Forest at Fifteen Mile Creek. Suddenly the towpath-mobile started making a loud,  alarming noise. Not just a little rattle.

Joe hopped out and looked underneath the van. The fan cover had come loose, and it was banging against a bunch of moving parts. Not a disaster, but definitely not drivable.

Joe rummaged around the toolbox and found a tiny vise grip to secure it temporarily, along with a ton of duct tape. But what he really needed was zip ties, to thread through the tiny holes and make it tight again.

We checked in the car. No zip ties. We made it to the Bellegrove Mobil station on the interstate. No zip ties. We came down to Bill’s Place in Little Orleans and asked Jack. No zip ties. He found us one out back, but it was too big.

Out in the Bill’s Place parking lot, Joe wiggled under the car again to take another look. He asked me to look around, just to see if there were any random pieces of wire lying around in the gravel.

No wire. But right there on the ground was … a zip tie! And another. And another! Someone had scattered a whole box of zip ties around that parking lot!

They were exactly the right size too. They were all covered with gravel and dirt, so I would never have noticed them if Joe hadn’t asked me to look for stuff on the ground.

Joe fixed up the fan cover lickety-split, and off we went.

The last few weeks, the Universe has delivered us a whole lot of flooding, and rain, and mud, and insects. But every once in a while, the Universe just delivers you zip ties, at the exact moment you need them. Pretty amazing!

Finally Back Upriver, Where We’ve Longed to Be!

For the past 3 days, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, Joe and I have made the best of this small window of fine weather, and hurried back upriver to where our hearts have been all week.

For the last couple nights we’ve been staying at Fifteen Mile Campground in Little Orleans, the midpoint of our planned canoe trip. Our poor “Canal by Canoe” boat has been on top of Joe’s towpath-mobile for 10 days, without ever wetting its keel in a waterway. The Potomac has been too high for safe boating for at least a week, with no end in sight.

The Potomac River seen from Fifteen Mile Creek boat ramp. Joe’s over on the left.

Meanwhile we’re making the best of it! We had lunch at Bill’s Place  in Little Orleans, toured Green Ridge State Forest, and surveyed Sideling Hill Creek and Town Creek for runnability. (Not runnable.) We’ve seen some amazing shale barrens and rare wildflowers that we’ll share in our upcoming posts.

Our photos here are of the boat ramp at Fifteen Mile Creek – the view from our campsite. The water was SUPER high here last week! Now it’s nice enough to cool your feet in.

And AAH how nice to camp without rain pelting our tent all night!

Off the Island, Back on the Towpath

On Tuesday the river finally went down enough that we could canoe across the channel from Sycamore Island to the mainland. So where did we go with our newfound freedom? Back to the C&O Canal towpath, of course!

We wanted to see how some of our favorite spots upstream had weathered the flood, so we visited Seneca Aqueduct, Edwards Ferry, and Monocacy Aqueduct. Apart from some squishy mud flats, and some giant piles of debris backed up behind the aqueducts, everything looked safe and sound.

We were happy to see this, because several locations between Point of Rocks and Antietam did not fare so well.

Baby Deer Is Back In Its Nest!

On Joe’s patrol around Sycamore Island today, he found that the missing baby deer is back in its nest! We’re not sure what happened here, but we can see that animals are very smart in responding to floods, in ways we don’t always understand. Just thought you’d like to know. We were pretty happy to see this too!

The Magic School Bus: Mary and Joe on a Canal Classrooms Field Trip!

Last fall, Joe and I had the amazing privilege of taking a field trip with Canal Classrooms! We accompanied an entire 4th grade from Washington County, MD, on their experiential education day at Cushwa Basin in Williamsport, MD, in the C&O Canal National Historical Park.

We wanted to learn more about the Canal Classrooms Transportation Scholarship Program. We wanted to see exactly what happened, when a school was approved for a bus grant to bring kids to the Park.

Canal Trust Sponsored School Bus

A Canal Classrooms school bus. The wheels on the bus go round and round … but for lots of kids, these wheels don’t turn without a little help!

Since you’ve all been SO generous in donating to the bus scholarships, we wanted to see – and share with you – what the kids experienced when they hopped off the bus. Did our donations help? Did they serve their purpose of getting less-advantaged kids outdoors? We’ll tell you all about it, and you can decide for yourself!

COOL STUFF THAT HAPPENED ON OUR FIELD TRIP

Our day at Canal Classrooms was absolutely magical from beginning to end. The kids were so excited to be there! We started our morning at the Visitor’s Center with a ranger talk about why the C&O Canal was built, and what it was like to live there in the 1800s, especially as a kid living in a lockhouse or on a canal boat. The kids were excited to go outside to see for themselves, so off we went.

One of the most awesome features of Canal Classrooms is that the teachers don’t have to do the work! The entire curriculum is taught by the Canal Classroom Corps of volunteer retired teachers, so the regular teachers get to relax and enjoy the field trip too. We could tell they really enjoyed that part.

Check out our photos of the cool stuff we learned along with the kids. Joe and I had forgotten how much fun it was to go on a field trip!


We ended our day of experiential learning back at the Visitor’s Center, where the kids got to check out the dioramas and the exhibits of canal artifacts. Even though it was a rainy day, the teachers and chaperones had a hard time herding all the kids back onto the bus. The kids didn’t want to leave – they wanted to go back down onto the towpath to explore!

“MULE MUFFINS”

Our favorite C&O Canal fact was about “mule muffins.” Back in canal days, the kids often walked the mules down the towpath as they pulled the canal boat. The kids walked barefoot on the hard towpath, so it was actually fun for them to stop and squish their toes in “mule muffins.” They were soft and warm and comfy on the feet! Our 4th graders thought that was pretty gross.

THE GENIUS OF CANAL CLASSROOMS – A HELPING HAND FOR OVERWORKED TEACHERS IN UNDERSERVED SCHOOLS

One of the cool things we learned about Canal Classrooms, is how closely the park rangers and staff work with local teachers and school districts, to tailor Canal Classrooms to the kids’ real curriculums.

The teachers are eager to bring their kids to Canal Classrooms, because it’s a great way to take the curriculum outdoors for some experiential learning. It makes their jobs a little easier. Plus, it’s just fun!

We also heard some sobering teacher stories about what a day at Canal Classrooms might mean to their kids, especially in less-advantaged rural school districts adjacent to the upper Canal. For example –

  • We knew that many of the kids have never visited a National Park. What we didn’t realize, is that a lot of kids don’t really get to go outdoors at all! They’re indoors at school. They’re indoors at home. They don’t have safe places to play outside. Their friends don’t live within walking distance. There aren’t any walkable roads in their neighborhoods. So they just stay in.
  • Their schools can’t afford ANY field trips. Seriously, not ANY. So they just don’t do field trips. Many of their kids have never been on a field trip the whole time they’ve been in school. It’s just not a part of their school experience.
  • Even if the overworked teachers had the resources to plan a field trip destination, itinerary, and lesson plan (which they don’t), the transportation cost of field trip buses is just prohibitive. A $250 bus for 50 kids is an impossible expenditure, in schools where the kids can’t afford breakfast, lunch, or books.
  • The genius of Canal Classrooms, is that it provides a “done-for-you” solution to ALL these challenges for teachers. The Park develops the lesson plans from the teachers’ input. The Park’s own volunteer Classroom Corps teaches the lessons. And best of all, the Park’s Bus Scholarship program solves the biggest challenge, transportation, by simply paying for the bus.

One teacher said that a program like this would be “too good to be true” – it was outside her wildest imagination of what might be possible for her kids.

Field Trip 12

The volunteer teachers of the Canal Classroom Corps are angels in orange! Their stipend is $50 a day.

WE WANT TO SEND AS MANY BUSES AS POSSIBLE, TO SCHOOLS WHERE THEY’RE NEEDED MOST!

If the biggest obstacle to bringing kids to Canal Classrooms is transportation, then we want to make sure that every class that needs a ride, can get a ride.

At the time of our visit, the greatest need for bus scholarships was in rural areas adjacent to the upper Canal: Allegany County MD (Cumberland area), Morgan County WV (Berkeley Springs area), Hampshire County WV (Romney area), and Mineral County WV (Keyser area).

Preference for bus scholarships goes to Title I schools – those that receive federal aid when most of the kids’ families are below the poverty level. In those 4 rural counties, 25 of the 29 elementary schools are Title I schools.

It’s great that less-advantaged schools get priority – but according to the Park’s Bus Scholarship page, “Funding varies per year and is first come, first served.” So when the bus money runs out, some kids get left out.

We want to make sure that doesn’t happen! Every additional $5 we raise for the Transportation Scholarship Program, means that one more kid gets to attend Canal Classrooms. We’re pretty excited about that.

KID QUOTE OF THE DAY

Long story short, we loved our Canal Classrooms field trip! But the kids are way smarter than we are, so the last word goes to a 4th grader in our group: “This is way better than school. I’m gonna skip school tomorrow so I can come back here instead!”

Update on baby deer! And black snake swallows squirrel.

We did not know what to do about the little fawn we found last night. Everything we read on the internet said to leave it alone and that the mother was probably nearby. We thought it was hard to believe that the mom was around, but we left the fawn alone, and this morning it was gone. We can only guess, but we think it was a sign that the mother is still here and looking after her young one.

The funny thing was, while I was searching for the fawn, I scared up a large male turkey! It was sitting just as still as could be, and I was standing next to it without realizing. Then suddenly, it leaped in the air, fell into the flood waters, but then finally managed to fly away. Wow.

And just when I thought I had seen everything, I came upon a five foot black snake, that had the big bushy tail of an adult gray squirrel dangling from its mouth. The rest of the poor beast was silhouetted inside the body of the snake. That must have been one very hungry snake. We’ll miss that little guy.

“Vacationing” on a shrinking island.

What a difference a day makes. Early yesterday they were calling for record flood levels on the Potomac river and we couldn’t stop worrying about the looming disaster, but this morning, thankfully, those predictions were lessened. There was still considerable damage to the towpath and many parts of the Park are closed but it could have been worse. All of this flooding and flood damage to the canal is a sobering reminder of why the C&O Canal was never a reliable transportation link.

Mary and I are so relieved and now we can relax a little and try to make the best of our current non-vacation situation down here on Sycamore Island.

Actually, It’s not unlike last year’s Canal By Canoe when we were held up by the rain and we camped on meadow island for three days. During that time I would go off to explore the island and Mary would stay under the tarp and blog. Similarly, today I’ve been traipsing off to the river’s edge and watching as the river slowly creeps in. There has been a lot to observe.

First of all, there was a great blue heron fishing by the picnic tables right in the middle of the Island. Then I noticed that there were carp on the island too, swimming in the shallows at the lower part of the island. There were also a lot of very large carp in the canal which is now full of rain water. There is still one goose sitting on a nest here on the island and it looks like the nest will be threatened if the river gets any higher. Poor mother goose.

The most surprising thing we found at the water’s edge was a newly born fawn,  tawny brown with white spots. It didn’t move a muscle when I got close to it but it’s eyes were open. It wasn’t clear if the mommy was around or not. If the mother isn’t on the island, I doubt she would be able to swim here nowagainst this swollen river. Let’s hope that little guy moves to higher ground.

 

 

Flood Emergency Brings Joe Back to the River … and Back to Work

As the caretaker and sole employee of the Sycamore Island Canoe Club on the Potomac River, Joe’s responsible for the care and upkeep of this historic island club near Glen Echo, MD. Joe gets regular vacation time like everyone else … but on vacation, no matter where we are, he’s always watchful of the river gauge. When the river floods, Joe comes straight back to the Island to secure all the docks, boats, and structures. There’s no way he could relax on vacation, knowing that the Island’s in danger.

This week, by Wednesday morning, the flood gauge had shot up to alarming levels. We packed up our giant pile of stuff in record time, and got Joe back to Sycamore Island by early afternoon. He’s been hard at work for the last 48 hours, getting everything ready for a possible “big one.”

 
The flood predictions have been jumping around, from a high of “catastrophic, run for your lives,” to a low of “shovel mud off the docks.” The river’s rising slowly. Upstream, between Point of Rocks and Antietam, parts of the C&O Canal towpath have sustained heavy damage from flooding and washouts. The city of Frederick is suffering a severe flood emergency from the overflowing Monocacy River.

 
We’re hoping for the best and preparing for the worst, which is pretty much a motto for living anywhere in the Potomac River watershed.

Day 1, Our Great Adventure … Then THIS Happened!!!

OK, so Canal by Canoe, Special 5th Anniversary Edition, has coincided exactly with the Gigantic Potomac River Flood of May 2018. Our very best friends and supporters are rolling their eyes at our optimism / stupidity. They’re 100% right. What can we say? We knew it would rain a little. But not like THIS!

It started way back in February. We calendared Canal by Canoe for these exact two weeks in May. May is a nice month. Pretty flowers. Nice weather. No bugs. Long days. Warm river. Beautiful sunsets. What’s not to like?

Well. May. OMG. Last week, we were nervously checking the forecast, as we packed our usual giant pile of stuff. It looked like rain for a few days. We figured it might shower a bit in the afternoons. We were OK with that. We’ve done rain before. No problem. That’s why we have the giant pile of stuff. For contingencies.

So we set out on Tuesday full of excitement, hoping for the best. And we did have one great day of adventure. Highlights:

1. We thought it would be smart to just take a look at the river, before launching the canoe. Our first stop was Old Town MD, to inspect the low-water toll bridge over the Potomac River. The water looked a little high. You definitely couldn’t canoe under the bridge. But it wasn’t underwater yet.

 

2. We decided to wait and see, just for one night, before launching. So we found a nice riverfront campsite, not too far from the car, and settled in. Tuesday was a beautiful, warm, sunny evening. We made a fire, cooked a nice dinner, and watched the river flow.

 

3. Overnight, it rained. Actually it poured, all night long. Wednesday morning, we woke up to a nasty mudhole of a campsite, and a huge brown river that had risen overnight to within a few feet of our tent!

Campsite, before.

 

Campsite, after. The river’s risen to within a few feet of our tent.

 

Our site’s a muddy mess.

 

4. We checked the river forecast. We checked the weather. They were both terrifying. We were SOOO glad we had a bailout option with the car nearby! So we retreated and decided to regroup. We never did actually launch the canoe this trip. Not yet, anyway. We’re still optimistic for next week.

Flood Alert! Joe and Mary Are OFF the River

Hi everyone, thanks so much for all your great well-wishes and generosity for Canal by Canoe 2018. We REALLY appreciate your enthusiasm for our crazy project!

Just wanted to let everyone know, due to significant flooding on the Potomac River, Joe and I are OFF the river for the next few days. We are safe and (mostly) dry, and plan to stay that way until the river recedes to navigable levels.

More stories to follow of our wet adventures over the last 48 hours. Meanwhile, no worries, we’re on dry-ish land, and all is well.

Check out the river gauge below, in the area we were planning to canoe in the next few days. Friends, this is a SCARY graph. Seriously, a safe canoeing level is at the VERY BOTTOM of the white part of this gauge, from 6 to 8 feet or below. We are ALL about river safety, and want nothing to do with this, until it goes way, WAY back down.

We love the Potomac River very much. The first priority of river love, is RESPECT for its terrifying power. The river is the boss. Always.

Thanks again for your awesome support. Updates to follow!

This is a SCARY HIGH river level at Paw Paw! It’s canoeable when it’s at the VERY bottom of the white part of the graph.

2018 Trip Plan: Crazy Wilderness Edition

For 2018, we’ll be returning to the far-upriver theme, exploring the lovely and remote parts of the C&O Canal between Cumberland and Hancock MD. We’re changing it up from last year, when we visited the close-to-home, more accessible areas between Harper’s Ferry and Great Falls MD.

This year we’ll be launching from Spring Gap, below Cumberland. We’ll travel through historic Oldtown MD, and past the confluence of the North and South Branches of the Potomac River, to Paw Paw WV. We’ll then traverse the lovely Paw Paw Bends, from Paw Paw WV to Little Orleans MD, stopping to visit the Paw Paw Tunnel and other cool C&O Canal landmarks. Check out our interactive map below for details.

After a nice hot meal at Bill’s Place in Little Orleans, we’ll float down through the wild terrain of Woodmont, Pearre, and Sideling Hill, then explore the Great Cacapon area, near Berkeley Springs WV, before finishing our adventure at Hancock.

We’re really looking forward to revisiting this wilderness section, and seeing the Canal from different travel perspectives this year!

Here are a few photos from our prior adventures in this part of the world.

Our 2018 Fundraising Challenge: Bring 800 Kids Outdoors!

Our mission here at Canal by Canoe is to support the AWESOME work of the C&O Canal Trust in preserving and promoting the C&O Canal. This year the Trust has again asked for our help with a very special project: Helping more kids from underserved schools to attend the Canal Classrooms outdoor education program in the Park.

Tens of thousands of kids have enjoyed the experiential outdoor learning of Canal Classrooms. The award-winning, curriculum-based programs, taught by a corps of retired teacher volunteers, use the rich resources of the C&O Canal to teach lessons in math, science, history, arts, culture, engineering, and other core subjects.

canal classrooms lift lock

Opening a lift lock on the C&O Canal – learning math, physics, and engineering the old-fashioned way!

However, one group of kids has been left out. For economically disadvantaged schools, the cost of bus transportation to get kids to the Park is simply unaffordable.

A bus for 50 kids costs $250. To bring an entire grade to the Park could cost the school $1000 or more. A lot of schools just don’t have the money. When you can’t afford books, or school supplies, or even lunch, a field trip is an unimaginable luxury.

Teachers in less advantaged schools report that many of their students have never been to ANY National Park in their lives. The C&O Canal NHP is right down the road from their neighborhoods, but without transportation, it might as well be across the country!

The Trust has asked for our help, getting these kids to the Park for outdoor education. So we’re asking for your help too! Last year, thanks to YOUR generosity, Canal by Canoe raised $2465 for buses for Canal Classrooms, exceeding our goal of $1500. This year, we’re rounding our challenge up to an even $2,500!

For $2500, we can donate 10 buses in 2018, which will get 500 kids outside into Canal Classrooms.

But that’s not all! For 2018, we’re honored to have the support of a very special benefactor to amplify our contributions. The Live Like Jack Fund will match 100% of our contributions up to $1500! The Live Like Jack Fund honors the legacy of outdoorsman Jack Bauer, by contributing to causes that bring kids outdoors. An extra $1500 means 6 more buses, and 300 MORE kids outdoors!

We are so thrilled that our efforts can help more kids to “Live Like Jack,” and grateful for this generous offer! It means that if we meet our goal, our total contribution will be $4000, and we can help 800 kids!

We’ll be thinking of those kids during our trip this year, and hoping that we can get all 800 of them into the Park. We’d love your help too. Click the button for our special page that sends donations directly to the Canal Trust.

Thank you, our generous friends!

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Canal by Canoe 2018: Our Fifth Anniversary!

Joe and I are excited to announce, the return of Canal by Canoe for the FIFTH straight year! Our annual wilderness canoe camping trip down the Potomac River seems to actually be a thing.

How did this come about? Back in 2014, we decided to take a little float trip, canoe camping down the Potomac River. We thought it would be *fun* to canoe from Cumberland MD to Washington DC, a distance of 200 miles, in 2 weeks, and write a blog about our trip.

OK, in retrospect, this was definitely Type II fun. But what made it possible at all, was that the C&O Canal National Historical Park runs the entire length of the Potomac River from Cumberland to DC, with conveniently placed, comfortable campsites every 5 miles, free of charge. Not to mention some beautiful historic lockhouses to stay in.

We were so appreciative of this, that we wanted to do something nice to give back. So we made donations to the Canal Trust, the Park’s nonprofit partner, and asked our blog readers to do the same, with a modest “donate” button on our sidebar.

And wow, were you guys generous! Over the last 4 years, you’ve helped us raise over $5000 for the Canal Trust! You, our readers, really create the energy, that keeps us coming back to do this trip year after year. We so appreciate your following us, and reading our stuff, and supporting the Trust, and loving the canal as much as we do.

This year we’ll be back in remote wilderness mode, canoeing the section between Cumberland and Hancock. For 2018, the Trust has requested our support for Canal Classrooms, the Park’s award-winning outdoor education program, for underserved schools in rural Maryland and West Virginia. We’ve got some exciting news about that and more to share, so please come back often in the next few days!

Thank you, Mary and Joe

We’re on the Cover of Potomac Almanac Magazine!

How cool is that – Canal by Canoe’s in the news. Last week’s cover story in Potomac Almanac magazine is an in-depth account of our Canal by Canoe trip down the Potomac this year!

Reporter Susan Belford interviewed us for a story a few weeks ago, so we knew it was coming out, but it was a surprise to see ourselves on the cover. Thank you Susan for such a nice write-up of our trip, and for giving us our 15 minutes of fame!

Thank You Generous Friends, We EXCEEDED Our Goal! More Kids Outside, Woot!

Thanks to YOUR generosity in helping us get more kids outside, we’ve actually EXCEEDED our fundraising goal for 2017’s Canal by Canoe – we raised $1775! That’s $275 OVER our goal of $1500!

With the generous match of the Live Like Jack Fund, our total donation to the Canal Classrooms bus scholarship fund for outdoor education is $3275. Wow!

That means we just funded over 13 buses at $250 each – which means that 650 kids who can’t afford the cost of a field trip, will now be able to attend an outdoor education program at the C&O Canal National Historical Park.

We’re so proud to support this cause, and deeply honored that you all do too. We clearly have the best friends ever!

Thank you from the bottom of our hearts, Mary and Joe

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