“It’s full every day,” said Gail Hall, who runs Mountain Side Bikes at the trailhead in Cumberland, Md. “They’re bringing in their own water and utilizing the tree-lined areas [of the park] for restrooms. Some towns like Harper’s Ferry even brought in potties to accommodate them. As long as they can pedal, they don’t care.”
Cumberland Times-News reporter Matthew Bieniek, who first reported that the handles on the park’s old-fashioned water pumps had been removed as part of the federal government shutdown, told CNSNews.com that Park Superintendent Kevin Brandt told him that the pumps had been disabled “to discourage people from attempting to use the park.”
But Michael Nardolilli, president of the non-profit C&O Canal Historical National Park Trust, which runs interpretive programs at the park’s historic lockhouses, later said that the pump handles were removed for “public health reasons.”
“The State of Maryland requires the park to monitor 40 public wells for contaminants every two weeks,” he told CNSNews.com. “When the park was shut down on October 1st, they furloughed the park employees who do the testing,” and the park was “not in compliance with Maryland water quality standards.”
Nardolilli added that C&O is home to “1,300 historical structures, more than any other unit in the National Park Service,” and “60 rare or endangered species.” He said there are currently “no eyes and ears to protect these resources” because the “handful of Park Police still on duty” are too busy patrolling the entrances to the park’s 15,000 acres in a futile attempt to keep people out.
As of Monday, there were no barriers on the footpaths in Cumberland leading to the towpath, which stretches along the Potomac River to Washington, D.C., Bieniek confirmed. “A lot of people are riding their bikes on the towpath. I have not heard about a single person being asked to leave” since the park officially closed, he added.
Nardolilli said he also has not heard any reports that people who enter the park are being arrested or given citations by park police. Neither has Hall. “No one has reported any problems,” she said.
The 150-mile Great Alleghany Passage, which runs from Pittsburgh, Penn. and joins the C&O Canal towpath in Cumberland, is run by a private non-profit and is still open as usual, Hall said. And all but a few NPS-funded campgrounds along the route are also open for business.
The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, which was chartered by President James Monroe, opened in 1828 to allow horse-and mule-pulled barges to transport coal, lumber and agricultural products to Washington. It was used as a shipping lane until 1924.