It really is all about connectedness. The Potomac River is and has been the waterway to connect the eastern seaboard states to the land beyond the Blue Ridge. George Washington took the Indian trails seeking a waterway route that would connect the tidewater to the forks of the Ohio at Pittsburgh. With the completion of the Great Allegheny Passage in 2012, the route to the west has become a recreational trail from Georgetown in Washington D.C. to Pittsburgh.
The Great Allegheny Passage connection with the C&O Canal National Historical Park towpath in Cumberland, Md., was recently designated a U.S. Bike Route 50 by the Adventure Cycling Association. Now, cyclists from across the nation and abroad can plan a journey along the trail and into our towns. Over a million cyclists have taken this journey over the past five years.
The Canal Towns Partnership was formally launched in September 2011 at Ferry Hill Plantation in Maryland overlooking the Potomac River and Shepherdstown. It is a partnership of eight towns, four counties and two states that share a common cultural thread. Our towns, trails, towpaths and passages have become a destination for recreational tourists, local cyclists and just folks out to see a bit of history in their own backyard.
The Canal Towns Partnership’s mission is to foster economic and community development in these eight towns from Cumberland down to Point of Rocks, Md., through promoting recreational tourism in areas of historic significance.
Cyclists need services along the trail and the towns have stepped up to work together to welcome families, cycling groups and the occasional weekday biker into our towns. By branding the canal towns with logos, signage and kiosks, the trail rider now take that path into the towns and it has made a difference.
By taking this signed route the traveler can now find out where to go to have a cool drink, sit in a sidewalk café, visit a bookstore and ship their purchase via UPS. Most importantly, our guests have an opportunity to experience our towns, strike up a conversation, enjoy our local events and perhaps stay awhile and plan to return.
George Washington’s vision of a “Gateway to the West,” a waterway that connected the eastern seaboard with the forks of the Ohio was realized with the completion of the C&O Canal in 1850. Now the towpath and Great Allegheny Passage have become the recreational highway to the west, a journey through American history and a path that connects visitors to our towns. For you see, it is all about connectedness.
— Lois Turco is the Chair of the Canal Towns Partnership. She writes from Shepherdstown