For almost 100 years in the 19th and early 20th century, the C&O Canal provided an important transportation route along the Potomac River. Today, almost 1,300 historic structures remain within the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park, including many of the lockhouses that controlled the flow of commerce along the approximately 185-mile route. The size of the park, however, and the number of historic resources located within present a maintenance challenge for the Park Service.
Federal funding support for the Park Service has not kept pace with the maintenance needs over the years, and as a result the maintenance backlog across the entire National Park System has grown. Current estimates from the Park Service set the total backlog amount as $11.5 billion with $4.5 billion attributable to the unmet needs of cultural and historic resources alone. In the face of decreased federal funding, this backlog amount continues to grow.
Yet innovative programs and approaches are working to make a dent in the backlog.
For several years now the National Park Service has been working in partnership with the C&O Canal Trust to preserve the historic lockhouses in the park. Through the innovative Canal Quarters program, six lockhouses within the park have been restored using outside funding support provided by the C&O Canal Trust. Visitors to the park can now reserve these lockhouses for overnight stays and experience what life was like for lockkeepers and their families firsthand.
In recognition of this successful partnership, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation awarded on March 7, 2014, its Chairman's Award for Achievement in Historic Preservation jointly to the Park Service and the C&O Canal Trust. The Chairman’s Award recognizes projects that make significant preservation contributions in partnership with a federal agency or federal properties.
The National Trust is also taking the lead in advocating for new approaches to help address the maintenance backlog. In a recent report titled Historic Leasing in the National Park System: Preserving History through Effective Partnerships, the Trust has called for revisions to the Park Service’s current leasing program that if implemented would increase the program’s use and effectiveness. A more effective leasing program will bring in non-federal monies to help preserve irreplaceable historic resources before they are lost.
New solutions are necessary to meet the funding challenges facing the Park Service. The successful partnership between the National Park Service and the C&O Canal Trust has resulted in the preservation of lockhouses, as well as opening them to the public in a way that would likely be impossible without the outside funding support provided by the C&O Canal Trust. This partnership is an inspiring example of the successes that are possible when preservationists work together in new ways.