James River & Kanawha Canal

Gwynn Lock Cleanup

Looking Southwest early in the day

One of the activities of the canal society that benefit Virginia’s historic resources is cleaning up overgrown locks. On March 12, 2022, a group of volunteers met to take on Gwynn Lock near Eagle Rock, VA. This cleanup was scheduled and rescheduled several times due to weather, so Andrew Shaw, who was leading the effort, decided not to let yet another late winter storm stop this effort. Even though the fast-moving winter front kept the temperature below freezing and brought along strong winds, it was well attended with many volunteers, some of whom also brought along their children for a wintry overnight campout.

Gwynn Lock is part of the 3rd division of the James River & Kanawha Canal, which was to be built between Buchanan and Covington, Virginia. The third division was not completed, and the canal boat lock was never used. However, the lock was constructed in conjunction with a dam, and during construction of the dam, batteaux traveled to Covington and a separate lock was constructed to allow for their passage. This site is unique due to the two locks of different sizes right next to each other.

When the lock becomes overgrown with trees and brush, their removal is more than cosmetic. Large tree roots can move the stones and eventually cause significant damage. This is delicate work that must be performed by hand, with everything cut by chainsaw which is then passed down off the lock walls and brought by others to a woodchipper.

The work began at one end of the lock and by late afternoon had reached the other end. Sebastian Backstrom was a major factor in our success, as he brought the big equipment, including the woodchipper. The chipper made short work of trees, brush and many vines cut away from the lock. The pile of chips was also a bonus as some of the smaller participants were more concerned with playing than working, and a large pile of chips made for a fun place to play.

Thanks to hot soup to warm up our insides and a campfire to warm our hands, the cleanup was a great success, and the final winter storm of 2022 didn’t derail our efforts.

I also want to acknowledge Andrew Shaw and all the volunteers he lined up for this work. It was gratifying to see so many people doing the good work of the VCNS and caring for this important historic site.

Looking Southwest late in the day