The canal operated from 1828-1924 as a transportation route, primarily hauling coal from western Maryland to the port of Georgetown in Washington, D.C. Hundreds of original structures, including locks, lockhouses, and aqueducts, serve as reminders of the canal's role as a transportation system during the Canal Era. In addition, the canal's towpath provides a nearly level, continuous trail through the spectacular scenery of the Potomac River Valley.
The National Park Foundation encourages and promotes local fundraising support at individual national park sites. The C&O Canal Trust is a nonprofit partner of the National Park Service and helps to ensure that Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park's natural, historical, and recreational potential is fully realized through a combination of fundraising, volunteerism, community outreach and education, and hands-on restoration.