Updated on Monday, May 9, 2022 at 5:25 p.m.
Two construction barges came loose from their moorings and were seen floating down the Potomac River in the Eastern Panhandle Sunday.
The barges were part of a restoration project at McMahon’s Mill, a one-mile stretch of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Park that spans from Maryland to Washington, D.C.
Public information officer Christiana Hanson says the barges came loose when last weekend’s rains caused water levels in the Potomac to rise.
“That’s an area that gets really heavily impacted anytime we have high water events,” said Hanson. “So that’s what this construction project was hoping to mitigate.”
The park has confirmed that both barges are at a standstill. One traveled around 20 miles downstream before getting caught on a hydraulic roller at the ruins of former Dam Number 3 in the Harpers Ferry area. The other stopped closer to the construction site at Dam Number 4 north of Shepherdstown.
The park is waiting for water levels to subside to both retrieve the equipment and confirm if there was any property damage. Hanson says that in the meantime, those coming to the park should stay cautious and safe. Recent rainy weather means there is still standing water and muddy trails in the park. Saturated ground – meaning soil that has been overwatered with heavy rains – also means it is more likely for trees to fall.
“For events like this, everybody wants to come out and see it. It’s very visual. It’s very exciting. But I want to remind visitors, the sun is out, the rain is gone, but the impacts are still being felt,” said Hanson. “As folks are coming back into the parks or coming to see what’s going on, we really encourage them to recreate responsibly.”
As of Monday, contractors are monitoring the barges to make sure they do not move further. No injuries have been reported.
**Editor’s note: This story was edited to clarify the location of the C&O Canal and the distance the barge at Harpers Ferry traveled.