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Planning commissioners warn against ‘over-programming’ Georgetown C&O Canal overhaul

The National Capital Planning Commission recently opined on the project

The C&O Canal in Georgetown

Located in Georgetown, the first mile of the 184.5-mile C&O Canal is poised for a significant redesign in the coming years. The National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) provided early feedback on the project—led by the National Park Service, neighborhood leaders, and D.C.’s Office of Planning—at its June 6 meeting, generally supporting the plans, but urging that “over-programming the canal could be detrimental” to its historic character. The project is being designed by James Corner Field Operations, the firm behind New York’s High Line.

Commissioners “noted that it is important to balance the visitor experience and universal accessibility with historic preservation, making sure that the Georgetown Canal is a place that everyone can access and enjoy,” according to a release from NCPC. “The Commission noted the access issues visitors face today and the towpath’s poor condition.” The current plans call for fixing up certain structures and creating educational spaces, a visitor center, and even a mule yard. The project is segmented into five key components, the plans show.

Plan map for the Georgetown C&O Canal
National Park Service/Georgetown Heritage

In a report on the project, NCPC staff wrote that “the canal’s natural and industrial character ... make it a unique and intimate experience.” “Like several other park planning projects currently underway in the District, the challenge is finding the right balance between improving the function and program of the park and historic preservation,” the staff added.

Now a national landmark, the C&O Canal runs to Cumberland, Maryland, and was originally built from 1828 to 1831. The first mile stretches roughly between 28th and 36th streets NW.