Skating on the Canal is Legal (But You Won’t Be Doing it Any Time Soon)

Just as a follow-up to the earlier linked article about freezing the canal for skating, GM wanted to republish his article from 2012 about how skating on the canal is legal. Of course the canal will be dry for the next two years as some of the locks in Georgetown are repaired. So you won’t actually get a chance to practice this right. But keep it in mind come 2018!

As the days finally get colder, GM starts to think back to his childhood days skating on a tiny frozen pond behind his friend’s house in Connecticut. (The fact that the pond was only about 25 feet across helps explain why GM never really learned to stop on skates; he hardly had room to start). It was this nostalgia for outdoor skating that led him to wonder: why not build a waterfront rink? GM’s question was answered in the affirmative shortly afterwards when MRP Realty announced plans to bring an ice rink to the Washington Harbour.

But that won’t get built in time for this winter. And what if you want to skate on a natural body of frozen water? Well we’ve already got one of those: the C & O Canal.

While it hasn’t been cold nearly enough for the canal to freeze yet this winter, by late January, February at the latest, it should ice over. And guess what? You are allowed to skate on it if you want. GM just assumed the NPS would prohibit such a fun activity since, lets face it, they can kinda be killjoys. But according to C & O Canal National Historic Park:

It’s that time of year and weather when Park visitors may go ice skating.

The ice skating issue is addressed in the Park’s rules (reprinted in the C&O Canal NHP Volunteer Manual):

“Ice skating is permitted at your own risk park-wide, except where prohibited by signage.”

There are signs at Widewater, where the water is so deep it never freezes enough to be safe.

Our role is to advise visitors of unsafe conditions when we become aware of them.  Do so nicely.  Elsewhere, the canal is usually safe because it is so shallow.  People may get wet feet and be cold, but this is rarely a life-threatening emergency.  If you are not sure, telephone dispatch and talk to them about it.

If person goes through the ice at Widewater or other deep water area, call 911.  No heroics; without the right gear, you will just be another casualty.   If an animal goes through the ice, no humans should be put at risk to save it, but you could call dispatch and ask what they recommend.

So keep an eye on the canal, and when it looks good and frozen, grab your skates!


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