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Cape Cod Canal Celebrates Its Centennial

Cape Cod Canal Celebrates Its Centennial

Celebrate 100 years of recreation and transportation with festivals, parades and fun.

Tall Ship Dozens of boats pass through the Cape Cod Canal daily. (USACE)

What You’ll Find

The Cape Cod Canal boasts a rich history of protecting U.S. naval ships from prowling German U-Boats, shaving miles and hours from the vital New York-Boston trade route, helping merchant mariners avoid Cape Cod’s perilously rocky shore and providing modern hikers and bicyclists with two gorgeous trails along each of its shores.

Ship watchers, sailors, bicyclists, walkers, picnickers and outdoors lovers will celebrate the Canal’s centennial in 2014 with numerous maritime-themed events sponsored by the Cape Cod Centennial Committee. These events will highlight the canal’s vital role in U.S. commercial transportation and will feature ship tours, a tugboat parade, music festival, Parade of Lights, Family Fun Day, all-star baseball game and so much more!

Getting There

The Cape Cod Canal stretches 17.5 miles at the base of Cape Cod, from Sandwich on Cape Cod Bay to the east and Buzzards Bay to the west. The Cape Cod Canal Visitor Center is located in Sandwich, Massachusetts, and is open May 1 through October 26.

Make Sure You

Tour the Cape Cod Canal Visitor Center and watch some of the dozens of boats, from recreational sailboats to immense oil tankers, as they pass by each day. Every six hours, visitors can watch the fast-moving current as it changes direction over the course of a half hour of “slack time” with the ebbing and flowing of the tides. This Tide Tables chart (PDF) shows when the current changes direction. Learn more about the Canal’s deep history that goes back to when Myles Standish first envisioned the Canal. See how the Corps manages the endless parade of vessel traffic on the Canal, board a retired 40-foot patrol boat, enjoy a knot-tying station and participate in a fishing exhibit for kids. Watch as U.S. Army Corps of Engineers traffic control personnel activate immense counterweights to lower the center span of the beautiful railroad bridge (PDF) when a train approaches; the span normally remains in the raised position to accommodate water traffic.

The nearby town of Sandwich, which is celebrating its 375th anniversary this year, is hosting Seafest on July 26 to celebrate the town’s long maritime history, ending the day with a festive clambake, dance party and other events along the shores of the Canal at the Sandwich Marina near the Cape Cod Canal Visitors Center. Stay for the Parade of Lights, in which brilliantly-lit commercial and recreational boats will traverse the length of the canal. For boat owners who want to participate in the Parade of Lights, register your boat here.

Try This

Visit the 295-foot Eagle, a U.S. Coast Guard barque that was taken as a war prize from the Nazis after World War II and now serves as a training facility for future officers at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. Tours of the Eagle and the 170-year old Charles W. Morgan, a whaling boat that is the oldest U.S. commercial ship afloat, will be offered at the docks of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy.

Get Started

Experience the Cape Cod Canal by biking or hiking along the two paved service roads on each side of the Canal. Several points of interest can be found in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Self-Guided Bike Hike brochure (PDF). Bicycles can be rented one-half mile west of the Bourne Bridge.

Did You Know?

The Cape Cod Canal is a shortcut from Cape Cod Bay to Buzzards Bay that was envisioned by Myles Standish very early in U.S. history as a way to accelerate sea travel between New York and Boston, and help mariners avoid the Cape’s perilous rocky shores. It took August Belmont II, a wealthy financier who also built the Belmont Park racetrack and the IRT line of the New York subway, to undertake the huge engineering project in the early 20th century. Fewer than 20 years later, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was assigned by Congress to take over and deepen the Canal. Read here for more information about the Canal’s history.