The National Park Service is proposing to increase and expand park fees in the C&O National Historic Park. As a user, I appreciate the maintenance and improvement efforts needed for this extensive park. I support the fee structure that they recommend with comments that I have submitted to the National Park service. Let me explain why I think their proposal is important and also how you can participate in the comment process. The urgency is that the comment process ends on 22 February 2015. It has been open since 5 January and I just discovered it about 24 hours ago.
Last year I rode the C&O Canal Towpath for the first time. My assessment remains that it, together with the Great Allegheny Passage, forms the best off-road bicycle touring experience in the country. This route may be the longest such trail in the country: “officially” the GAP runs 150 miles from Pittsburgh, PA, to Cumberland, MD, and the C&O Canal Towpath 185 miles from Cumberland, MD, to Georgetown, MD.
During my ride I became aware that the entire C&O Canal Towpath and many of the historic attractions along the way are managed by the National Park Service. There are crews removing fallen trees from the trail and clearing the culverts that provide essential drainage to prevent damage to the towpath. Campsite and facility improvements are also done by the Park Service.
As a bicycle tourist, among the best features of the C&O are the hiker / biker campsites. These campsites are spaced at approximately 8 to 10 mile intervals for most of the length of the towpath. Most have a water pump, chemical toilet, and picnic tables in a wooded setting for either camping or taking a break during the ride or hike. Many of them are on the banks of the Potomac River. I camped at one of them near Potomac, MD, and used many others for lunch and rest breaks during my trip.
The scenery on the towpath includes historic sites with lock houses and the remains of locks and aqueducts. The National Park Service offers opportunities to camp in selected lock houses on the route. There are informational signs that explain the history of many of these sites, a great help in interpreting the significance of the achievements of those who built and managed the canal. Dams built on the Potomac River years ago to supply water to the canal still stand and back up large slack water areas used for recreation of all kinds.
Two of the fees proposed by the National Park Service that will affect me and other bicycle tourists are 1) the Park Pass and 2) the Hiker-Biker Camping Site Rate. My interpretation of the Park Service proposal is that the 7-day Park Pass will cost $10 in 2015 for end-to-end access to the towpath from Cumberland to Georgetown, increasing to $14 in 2017. The Park Service proposes to charge $20 per night for use of the hiker-biker campsites (I recommend $10.). There is currently no charge for the use of those sites. I support user fees like this because they go directly into the maintenance of the Park.
Hopefully, you feel as strongly as I do about the C&O National Historic Park and its positive value as a bicycle touring route. If you feel strongly enough, you can comment as I did on the National Park Service proposed fees for use on their Planning, Environment, and Public Comment site. My comments are here. Your comment can be as simple as a statement of support. On their web site you will need to scroll down to the link for the Chesapeake and Ohio National Historic Park. The link will take you to the proposal document and a link for comments. Be patient because it takes quite a few clicks to get there.
The National Park Service needs the help of supportive comments and a revenue stream that is independent of Congressional appropriations to sustain the C&O National Historic Park for many bicycle tourists and many seasons to come.