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NPS Considers Boathouse Zone Options;
Association Favors Low Density Alternative

February 2015

Until March 6, NPS is accepting public comments on a range of preliminary development plans for the Georgetown non-motorized boathouse zone, which includes the C&O Canal NHP shoreline to a quarter-mile upriver from Key Bridge.  In the canal park, the High Density Alternative includes a 10,000 square foot boathouse adjacent to the 1843 Alexandria Aqueduct Bridge.  The provision for land exchange suggests that this structure may be a new version of the earlier plan to create a private university boathouse within the canal park’s borders. 

In the comment below, C&OCA has favored the Low Density Alternative, under which the canal park would receive only such improvements as a nature trail and paddle boat launching area.  Public reaction may help to decide what alternative NPS includes and recommends as preferred in the draft Environmental Assessment to be published this summer – therefore, C&OCA members are urged to submit their personal input through the project website:  http://parkplanning.nps.gov/documentsOpenForReview.cfm?parkID=463&projectID=54903

Text of the C&O Canal Association comment:

On behalf of the C&O Canal Association, I welcome the opportunity to comment on the scoping phase of the Environmental Assessment on the Georgetown Nonmotorized Boathouse Zone Development Plan, and on the related review under the National Historic Preservation Act.  

The Association is an independent citizens organization with a mission that includes preserving the natural and historical environment of the C&O Canal and the Potomac River shoreline.  We support the National Park Service in its work to conserve and maintain the towpath and the scenic open spaces within the C&O Canal NHP.  We are therefore pleased to note that the National Park Service presentation on February 4 declared that the development plan intends to respect “the historic character, natural resources, and existing recreational use” of the canal park.  It is important to point out, however, that development plan’s preliminary High Density Alternative is inconsistent with those declared limitations.  

That High Density Alternative calls for establishment at Site C within the canal park of a 10,000 square foot boathouse with no height limitation.  The boathouse complex would include a 250 foot dock and a large apron immediately adjacent to the historic Alexandria Aqueduct.  Such construction would completely alter the character of this area, which lies just inside a popular entrance point to the National Historical Park.  It would degrade its scenic quality and environmental value, and would transform the existing recreational use of the area, particularly if used for academic team rowing.  

We also note that the High Density Alternative permits land exchanges to allow development by universities.  If applied to Site C, such an exchange would be a misuse of the National Historical Park’s authority to engage in land exchange, which is intended to enhance the park.  The canal park exists to benefit the public, and no part of it should be converted to private use.       

The Medium and Low Density Alternatives include proposals for changes within the C&O Canal NHP such as habitat enhancement, shoreline restoration, canoe/kayak launching, and a finger pier.  Steps of this kind may represent highly positive improvements, provided their design and scale is compatible with the existing historic and natural values of the area.  Further information will be needed on such issues as the environmental effects of using beaches, rather than docks, for boat launching.  

The Medium Density Alternative’s plan for a storage facility and a cartop drop-off area has the potential to crowd the narrow access point to the canal park.  The same Alternative’s inclusion of a second canoe/kayak launching area upriver from the Washington Canoe Club seems an unnecessary intrusion in a wooded area where the nature trail proposed under the Low Density Alternative would be more appropriate.  For these reasons, the Association prefers the Low Density approach.     
  
The demand for greater boating access in Georgetown can be responsibly accommodated in ways that will respect the unique resources of the C&O Canal NHP.  We hope that the current Environmental Assessment process will serve that goal.

Sincerely,

Dward Moore, President
C&O Canal Association

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     C & O Canal Association     P.O Box 366      Glen Echo, MD 20812-0366     Phone: 301-983-0825      Email: inquiries@candocanal.org