NPS Releases Final Version
Of Georgetown Boathouse Zone Study
National Park Service released the final version of its Feasibility Study to Implement a Non-motorized Boathouse Zone Along the Georgetown Waterfront September 24. The 619-page document represents the completion of a 21-month process. Defenders of the C&O Canal will need to remain vigilant.
The study examined the potential implementation of a non-motorized boathouse zone on the shore along the Potomac River waterfront in Georgetown. The NPS examined the structures and facilities related to non-motorized boat usage, including rowing, canoeing and kayaking, that can be accommodated within this zone (project area), as well as other uses. You can download a copy of the document at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/nmbzfinal.
The C&O Canal Association is keenly interested in the study, because the association opposes the construction of a massive private boathouse within the C&O Canal National Historical Park. The study recognized the problems with construction of a boathouse upstream from the Washington Canoe Club, but presented development options that include such a building and also a large boat storage structure in an area downstream from the club that is also within the C&O Canal NHP.
The study recognized the demand for boathouses to serve rowers and paddlers. The study outlined three scenarios for development: high density, medium density, and low density. Next steps in planning for a boathouse zone would likely include preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that would further analyze the development scenarios, a revision of the Georgetown Waterfront Park Master Plan, and proposals for one or more land exchanges for boathouses.
Advocates for the C&O Canal can take heart from the public comment on the issue. The final study includes over 400 pages of comments. At least 25 members of the C&O Canal Association submitted comments.
The association's position on the boathouse zone remains unchanged. Key points to remember:
- The part of the C&O Canal NHP included in the feasibility study is rich in historical assets, including the towpath and the ruins of the Alexandria Aqueduct.
- This portion of the canal park is environmentally vulnerable and includes scenic wooded shoreline that must be preserved.
- This part of the canal park is extremely popular but very narrow, presenting a danger of crowding along the canal towpath and Capital Crescent Trail.
- Areas downriver from the canal park are entirely suitable for new boating-related structures and afford better vehicular access.
- The C&O Canal National Historical Park belongs to the whole people, not private interests.
The feasibility study began almost two years ago. On December 13, 2011, NPS held an open house to introduce the public to the feasibility study. Speakers included: Peter May, Associate Regional Director of the National Capital Region; Tara Morrison, Superintendent of Rock Creek Park; Kevin Brandt, Superintendent of the C&O Canal National Historical Park; and members of the Louis Berger Group consulting firm. The aim of the feasibility project was described as studying ways to enhance river access for user groups and determining what facilities can be accommodated in the zone.
The zone under study includes land on both sides of Key Bridge. It extends upriver from the bridge for approximately 1,200 feet, including parts of the C&O Canal NHP upriver from the Alexandria Aqueduct ruins and also upriver from the Washington Canoe Club. The zone also includes private and public properties near Key Bridge, but it stops at 34th Street at the border of the new Georgetown Waterfront Park. It does not include that park, any land further downriver, or any part of the Virginia shore.
During January and February 2012, NPS conducted focus group meetings with stakeholder organizations such as user groups, universities, and citizens associations, including C&OCA. The agency then held a public workshop on March 3, 2012 to gather more public input and identify possible solutions.
The feasibility study is intended to assist future NPS decisions that may include development or improvement of NPS facilities, and/or further actions under laws governing environmental planning and historical protection. At this time, the EIS on the proposed Georgetown University boathouse within the present borders of the C&O Canal NHP is on hold. However, If the EIS is reopened, a massive private structure intruding on the canal park is possible
C&OCA hopes that the boathouse zone feasibility study will aid in a satisfactory resolution of the long boathouse controversy and that boating access in Georgetown can be enhanced in appropriate ways. Our overriding mission is to protect the historic, scenic, and natural value of the C&O Canal National Historical Park.
Background information on boathouse issue is contained in an article on this website and on the website of the Defenders of Potomac River Parkland, a coalition of organizations of which C&OCA is a member.