The last time I came through this section of the trail was during the bike ride of 2016. Here, the towpath runs along a section of the river known as Big Slackwater. The slackwater is a buildup of water formed behind Dam 4, which is just a couple of miles downstream from the mill. It was too difficult to cut a canal through the rocks/cliffs beside the river in this area. Boats used to be transferred from the canal on to the slackwater for a short distance to get past it. The boats were pulled along the river by the mules from a towpath beside the river itself. Because of its location, the trail is highly prone to damage whenever the river floods. This happens with some regularity.
This is a picture of McMahon’s Mill in the morning. The parking lot is next to the mill, behind it.
This is a picture of the section of Big Slackwater just downstream of McMahon’s Mill. West Virginia lies on the right side of the river in the picture, and Maryland to the left. In the distance, you can barely make out the new trail made of concrete that runs on the river bank today on the Maryland side of the river. This section of the trail had been destroyed for a long time because of the actions of the river. It was finally reconstructed in 2012 using modern techniques to withstand damage due to flooding.You can read more about this section of the trail here.
We walked in the upstream direction from McMahon’s Mill. The trail here still runs on the original towpath. You could see that the trail was quite rough in parts because it is regularly impacted by flooding from the river. The authorities have actually marked a detour over the local roads in this area to let you avoid the trail when it is flooded. In the past, before the completion of the reconstructed trail between McMahon’s Mill and Dam 4 in 2012, you also had to take a second detour to continue downstream on the towpath. I rode the narrow roads of this detour during one of my early visits to this area. The detour was not recommended for walkers.
Shortly into our walk, we arrived at a point where the boats used to leave the river and get back on to the canal. Lock 41 was used to transfer the boats into and out of the canal itself. Today, the trail dips just a little bit where the opening from the canal to the river must have been.
Beyond lock 41, the trail began to take a more familiar form.
We saw a lot of pawpaw trees. A few even had fruits on them.
The walk itself was not very remarkable. There was a small amount of traffic on the trail, not as bad as in some other places. There was not much else that was new and noteworthy other than the fact that the entire West Virginia side of the river was completely developed. There were houses and boat ramps everywhere. The width of the slackwater, and probably its depth, made this a good place for water sports.
We did walk a longer distance than usual, hoping to reach the area of a camper/mobile home community near a place called Falling Water. We gave up the attempt with less than a couple of miles to go. Perhaps this can be a challenge for another day.