Wildlife Corridors and the C and O Canal

I rode my bicycle last month on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal (C and O Canal).  I finished 140 miles of the 184-mile long trail!  The trip took me 4 days and I had plenty of time as I rode mile after mile to think about and absorb my surroundings.  I realized that the towpath is not just a place for humans to enjoy, but it serves a valuable service for wildlife.  It is a wildlife corridor.   As we have developed and urbanized our landscape, corridors or contiguous protected habitat have become scarcer and scarcer.  Animals and plants need to be able to travel to ensure biodiversity and health.  If the animals stayed in one place, genetic diversity would decline and inbreeding would lead to vulnerability, disease and genetic disorders.  Even a small amount of movement of animals creates a more robust population.   Sometimes protected habitat areas are large enough to provide the needed space, but often they are without safe corridors to move the animals around. The corridors provide a kind of safety valve for protected habitats that are too small to allow movement.   Deer, fox, raccoons, squirrels, toads, beaver and muskrat all live along the C and O Canal.  These animals survive better if they can mate with a diverse population of their species.  Wildlife corridors also proved safe passage for animals.  Often animals are killed trying to cross highways or viewed as pests if they enter private property.   Most people riding the trail experience the serenity of nature but may not really think about human-caused factors such as fragmenting habitat of the species. The park provides a “living laboratory” that helps us better understand how to preserve these ecosystems.