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Dock Plan Would Aid C&O Kayakers, Canoeists

By Kat LuceroCurrent Staff Writer

Kayaks and canoes may become common sights along Georgetown’s stretch of the C&O Canal. The Georgetown Business Improvement District and the National Park Service are evaluating locations along the waterway to install a dock, which would allow people to easily transfer their small boats to and from the water.

“The water sits down pretty deep from the edge. … Right now there’s no easy way to get down to the canal,” said John Noel, a spokesperson for the Park Service, which manages the C&O Canal National Historical Park. “That’s the hope of this project — to install a dock that would be more easily accessible for kayakers and canoeists.”

One of the sites being considered is near the vicinity of Fish Market Square, located south of and below Dean & DeLuca, a high-end grocery store at Potomac and M streets. The proposed area offers one of the few access points between the canal and the main commercial strip of M Street.

“We’re very focused on doing things to enhance the use of the canal,” said Joe Sternlieb, CEO of the business group. The canal has been losing visitors, and a boat that once carried them up and down the waterway no longer operates. So the BID has been brainstorming with the Park Service for more than a year on ways to revitalize this well-preserved waterway, which contributed to the commercial growth of Georgetown in the 19th century. The group included work on the C&O Canal in its “Georgetown 2028” plan, which aims to enhance the commercial district over the next 14 years.

The dock was “one of the many ideas that came out of the Georgetown 2028 planning process that we liked,” said Sternlieb.

Kayaking and canoeing are popular farther north, in the more wooded parts of the canal. There are no functional docks, but the Park Service has created access points. “We’ve put some steps in, for example, and created some paths that kind of wind down to the edge of the water where [people] can easily put their canoe or kayak in,” said Noel.

In Georgetown, these activities are permitted in the canal, but access to the water is a hurdle. Boating is popular nearby on the Potomac River, where facilities such as Thompson Boat Center rent out watercraft. Sternlieb said the BID plans to see if these vendors will allow customers to carry their rental equipment to the canal, which could be an alternative when boating in the river is not advisable. “Sometimes, it can be a beautiful day and the canal is peaceful, [but] the Potomac is rushing out after a storm,” he said. “I’m hopeful that people will figure out ways to get access to the recreational craft even if they don’t have their own. We’ll also help facilitate those conversations.”

The Park Service first approached the BID a few weeks ago about installing an existing but unused dock in the canal. The business group then held a meeting on the proposal, which drew a positive reception from neighboring businesses, said Sternlieb.

Officials recently discovered that the existing dock wouldn’t work in Georgetown, because it was designed for larger boats. The BID is now looking at building a new one, which would require a design review by the Old Georgetown Board.

Ron Lewis, chair of the Georgetown advisory neighborhood commission, told The Current that the dock “could be a lively and fitting use for the canal if it’s done well.”

This article appears in the April 16 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.