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Canal Story

Canal Story #1: Karen Gray

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the C&O Canal becoming a National Historical Park, we are featuring 50 Canal Stories throughout 2021. Each story will take a look at a person’s relationship with the C&O Canal. Whether an NPS ranger, a volunteer, or a visitor, everyone has a story to tell about the canal! If you want to share your story, submit it to us at the link here, email it to us at [email protected] or post it on your social media feeds with the hashtag #MyCanalStory.

Tell Us Your Canal Story

Karen Gray, long-time C&O Canal volunteer historian

C&O Canal Trust: What is your relationship with the C&O Canal?
Karen: I have a 3-love relationship with the C&O Canal. (1) I love the park–its natural, historic, and human resources. (2) I love the history and engineering of the canal and especially the historic masonry structures. And (3) I love the people who work in the park and those who love it as I do–in multiple ways.
C&O Canal Trust: Can you share your favorite historical fact or story about the canal?
Karen: I am so fascinated by the times the canal should have died but survived. Much of my study has been driven by the need to explain to myself those survivals and to understand the historic context and the people who played decisive roles in its survival.
C&O Canal Trust: Do you have a favorite canal memory?
Karen: I have competing memories that are on pretty much the same level of joy and satisfaction and they involve restorations or improvements: The dedication of the newly reconstructed Catoctin Aqueduct, the dedication of the Monocacy stabilization, my first visit to the fully restored and rewatered Conococheague Aqueduct (I was traveling at the time of the dedication or I would have been there), and the dedication of the bench at the Monocacy in memory of our incredible National Park Service (NPS) mason, Randy Astarb.
C&O Canal Trust: What is your favorite spot on the canal?
Karen: I especially love Dam 5 and Little Slackwater up to and including Locks 45 and 46. I consider the Dam 5 and Inlet #5 location the most dangerous for the boat people on the canal and the engineering uniquely interesting. But it is also now one of the most dramatic, unique, and beautiful places along the 184.5 miles–to a great extent because of one’s proximity to the beautiful, historic Upper Potomac River.
C&O Canal Trust: What does the C&O Canal mean to you?
Karen: It is very hard for me to put into words what the canal means to me. Trying to do so would require speaking about the connection to past people and events; the many friendships among the people associated with the NPS and the park that have enriched my life; the times that walks on the towpath have intensified my sense of life and the life and land I am a part of; and finally the times that the towpath has been my refuge when troubled or in sorrow and in need of interior healing which it always provided. What does it mean to me more briefly? A home–a place for belonging, unfailing pleasure, and unending personal enrichment.