[Update: Feb. 10, 2015 — NPS rolls back proposed fees on C&O Canal Towpath] Bicyclists using the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Towpath, one of the most popular bike touring trails in the nation, are facing new user fees along the entire length of the 184.5-mile trail from Washington DC to Cumberland, Maryland.
Also, a $20 per night fee would be charged for the currently free hiker-biker campsites that are located along the trail.
The National Park Service announced the proposals a week ago Monday (Jan. 5) and is seeking public feedback. Boy, are they going to get some feedback.
The C&O Canal Towpath is a national park that runs along the Potomac River from Washington DC to Cumberland, Maryland, where it connects to the Great Allegheny Passage rail trail that rolls through the mountains to Pittsburgh, PA.
The combined distance of these two trails is 340 miles. Since the opening of the GAP trail, the long-distance, car-free nature of this corridor from urban DC into the countryside has drawn hundreds, if not thousands, of bicyclists on overnight trips. Studies found that the bicycle traffic has stimulated the economy in small towns along the trail.
The Bicycling magazine website recently chose the combined C&O Canal Towpath/GAP trail experience as one of the top 10 car-free bike paths in the US:
“The ride is an accessible adventure for families (the total westbound climb of the GAP portion is just shy of 1,800 vertical feet, with a 1.4% average grade) and will motivate the next generation of cyclists to further the car-free movement.”
Here are the some of the increased fees that would affect bicycle travelers included in the Park Service press release:
Hiker-Biker Camping Sites: Current: No Charge. Proposed: $20 per night
Right now, the only location on the 186-mile linear park where a fee is charged is the Great Falls Tavern area in Potomac. The park proposes adding entrance fee collection to all areas outside the District of Columbia.
Park Annual Pass:
Current: $20 Great Falls, MD only
Proposed: $30 park-wide outside of the District of Columbia
Per Person Pass:
Current: $3/person for 3 days Great Falls, MD only
District of Columbia line to Seneca Creek(near towpath mile 22) — $7 for 7 days
West of Seneca Creek to Cumberland, MD — $3 in 2015 for 7 days; $7 in 2017 for 7 days
Entrance fees are not charged to persons under 16 years of age or holders of the America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Senior, Access or Military Passes
“The park also proposes to extend the daily pass effective dates from three days to seven days to better align with popular recreational activities, such as cycling the 184.5 mile towpath.”
In defense of the proposed fees, park superintendent Kevin Brandt said:
“Fee revenue is absolutely critical to the park operation, and we ask for the public’s feedback and support. National Parks are still one of America’s best bargains. I don’t know of anything a family can do for 7 days for just $15.”
Still, many trail users were flabbergasted by the proposed fees.
One wrote at the Yahoo Group for C&O Canal Towpath:
“For $20 in a primitive campsite, those porta potties better be pristine and lighted at night with squeezable Charmin exclusively for those with saddle sores.”
“Strongly encourage everyone to contact C&O Canal HQ and tell them this is a very bad idea. It will kill businesses and dry up patronage all along the towpath. Better yet, call your Congressman and Senator and tell them to fund the NPS and stop this insanity.”
To understand the problem with user fees, consider the following from the IRS.gov:
“Designed to fund a public service, user fees are a type of excise tax that comes in the form of a license or supplemental charge. This method of taxation can be considered regressive because, even though the fee or charge is the same for all income groups, a larger portion of income is taken from those with lower incomes than from those with higher incomes.”
Contact the NPS
If you have input you’d like to share regarding the proposed fees, go to the C&O Towpath user fee feedback page (might need Internet Explorer to leave a comment). The deadline for comments is Feb. 22. (Tom forwarded this link that works in Chrome — NPS feedback page).
Also, public hearings are scheduled:
January 21, 2015, at the Brunswick City Hall, Council Meeting Room, 1 West Potomac Street, Brunswick, MD 21716 from 6:30-8:00 PM
January 27, 2015, at C&O Canal Park Headquarters, 1850 Dual Highway, Hagerstown, MD 21740 from 6:30-8:00 PM
January 29, 2015, at Canal Place, 13 Canal St, 2nd floor, Cumberland, MD 21502 from 6:30-8:00 PM
February 5, 2015, at Glen Echo Town Hall, 6106 Harvard Ave, Glen Echo, MD 20812 from 7:00-8:30 PM
C&O Canal Towpath Trail at Traillink.com.