The good news is that nearly 113 miles of the C&O Canal towpath are open to pedestrians. The bad news is that most open sections are less than 10 miles long.

The National Park Service has been putting volunteers to work on the 184.5-mile pathway that runs along the Potomac River and which suffered extensive damage during the January flood.

Flood waters left 141 miles of the towpath strewn with branches, boulders and rubble, and damaged 166 structures, including 40 bridges, 40 locks, 14 lock houses and nine stone aqueducts, according to the National Park Service.

Restoration of the canal has become a major effort by hikers, bikers and others who enjoy the riverside path. Thousands have turned out to help in the cleanup.

Gordon Gay, the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park's chief of interpretive services said the offers of physical and financial assistance in repairing damage have been overwhelming.

"I was just astounded and continue to be," Gay said. "It's just been great."

Park officials estimate the canal and towpath sustained $16 million to $20 million in damage. In comparison, a 1985 flood caused $10 million in damage, and $6 million was spent to repair it.

By April, the Park Service had received about $600,000 from individuals and corporations for the cleanup, said park superintendent Douglas Faris.

Congress has appropriated $2 million in emergency repair funds that private sources are trying to match. More money was expected as part of a special appropriation to cover emergency repairs in national parks.

The cleanup has also captured some high-profile visitors.

Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt led a four-day, 63.5-mile hike as part of an effort to raise $2 million in private donations to help repair the park.

"The settlers on the Atlantic Seaboard built this canal and moved across the Appalachians to create a continental nation moving west," Babbitt said as he set out on the first 17-mile leg of the hike. "It's a wonderful part of our heritage."

On Earth Day, April 22, President Clinton and Vice President Gore pitched in. Dressed in a blue work shirt and khakis, the president and Gore - wearing bright yellow work gloves - devoted 10 minutes to clearing debris. "It's heavy," said Gore, as he and Clinton heaved a large log from a slope down to a river bank.

The towpath, once trod by mules towing canal barges alongside the Potomac River, runs from Georgetown in Washington, D.C., to Cumberland.

Park officials advise canal visitors to wear sturdy shoes because the towpath is rough and covered with silt, mud and debris.

Bicycles are allowed on some sections but horses are temporarily barred from the park. All campgrounds are closed.

The damage includes leaks that make the canal unable to hold water in some areas, Faris said. As a result, there will likely be no canal boat rides this year at Georgetown and Great Falls, he said.