When Opposite Sides of the River Clash, The Ferry is Stuck in Between

Here in the DC/MD/VA area (what we call the DMV) the Potomac River separates VA from DC and MD. On the MD side of the Potomac, the C&O Canal was built in the 1800s and its towpath is a very scenic path that runs along the Potomac for 184 miles from DC to Cumberland MD.

On the VA side, there is no riverside path, but five to fifteen mile into VA north of the Potomac, the Washington and Old Dominion Rail Trail is a real gem that runs 44 miles from DC’s National Airport to Purcellville VA.

There are only three or four bikeable bridges that cross the Potomac between Maryland and Virginia, which makes it difficult to make loops that include both routes. But at mile marker 35 of the C&O Canal there was another gem – White’s Ferry.

White’s Ferry on a calm day on the Potomac

White’s Ferry has been around since 1817 and is an odd contraption – basically a cable placed across the river and and a small ugly powered ferry propels itself along the cable to carry cars and bikers across the River, going back and forth all day long. They charged cars $5 ($8 round trip), bikes $2 and brave pedestrians $1.

A good number of commuters use the ferry during the week at rush hour, on weekends it was all tourists, motorcyclists and bikers. There was nice 75 mile loop (with 85 and 100 mile options) you could do by using White’s Ferry to connect the C&O and the W&OD.

The 75 mile C&O/W&OD Car Free (mostly) loop

Being able to do long trail loops is rare in this area – we have a good number of good bike trails/paths, but they don’t interconnect. Well, it is back to being rare.

Impasse!

The ferry and the MD landing (which includes a snack store, boat rentals, picnic tables) is owned by a Maryland family. The VA landing is owned a by Rockland farms, who apparently allowed the ferry to use the land for $5 a year under an old agreement. As the old saying goes “Good ferries don’t necessarily make good neighbors.” For a variety of reasons, the farm decided the ferry had violated the old agreement and wanted $.50 per car/bike which adds up to something like $125K per year – a slight increase over $5.

The White’s Ferry owners said they could not afford that, shut the ferry down and sold it. The new owner tried to negotiate with Rockland Farm, but last week gave up. Both sides have done a good job painting the other side as the villain – I don’t know who to believe. A seemingly balanced article on the dispute is here.

So, for the foreseeable future, no more looping and the commuters have a longer and much less scenic commute. I recently biked the Towpath to take the picture above and I think it was the first time I’d ever been there when the ferry wasn’t thrumming along and there weren’t a few bikes and cars on both sides of the river waiting their turn.

2 response to "When Opposite Sides of the River Clash, The Ferry is Stuck in Between"

  1. By: Suzanne Posted: November 24, 2021

    That is truly a sad story. I hate to see things like that happen to good bicycle infrastructure, as it’s rare enough as it is.

  2. By: Rich-Illinois Posted: November 24, 2021

    I assume Rockland farms raises lot of donkeys, because they certainly have a head jackass.

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