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Canal Story

Canal Story #10: Béla Demeter

By March 11, 2021No Comments

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 info@canaltrust.org or post it on your social media feeds with the hashtag #MyCanalStory.

Tell Us Your Canal Story

Béla Demeter, Canal Steward

C&O Canal Trust: Tell us your canal story!

Béla Demeter: I’ve been a Canal Steward since July 2018. I’ve hiked the Canal and the Billy Goat Trail for nearly 50 years (when I came to Washington). I often had a plastic bag with me and rarely came out without some bottles and trash. It felt good to do my small part in cleaning up our shared landscape, especially when it involved so little effort. Signing on to the Canal Steward Program seemed like the next logical step.

In my 35 years as reptile keeper and Biologist at the National Zoo, I was the liaison between the department and our keeper aides and interpretive volunteers. I came to appreciate how incredibly important these folks were to the enhanced functioning of our operation. We simply couldn’t have reached out to the public as efficiently without their help. Upon retirement, I felt it was time to pay back some of that energy (my initial volunteer gig was at the National Gallery of Art as a docent, leading tours of the collection). As essential as government agencies are to the operation of parks and museums, staff are often limited by budgets and resources. Tapping into the immense pool of retirees and other people with time on their hands is an excellent way to enhance the benefits that these institutions offer. I also feel that it’s beneficial in so many ways when the public takes a proprietary interest in these areas.  

I think recruiting more volunteers (especially young ones) is money well spent. It always makes my day when young people comment on what I’m doing and remark that they have either done that themselves or are now inspired to do so in the future. I can spend every day on the canal, but it takes everybody pitching in to keep it pristine.

It’s difficult to pick a favorite spot in the Park — sorta like choosing your favorite child. Two spots on Billy Goat B come to mind, however. From an artistic point of view, there is a fallen tree about a quarter mile from the West trailhead. I call it the “Ent” (from Lord of the Rings). It’s incredibly expressive, and I always stop to gaze at it. It changes with moisture and is even more dramatic after a rain.

My other favorite area is about a half mile from the West trailhead. I call it “Skink Rock” due the numerous Five-lined Skinks that make this spot their refuge. It’s fun to find the little guys hiding in the crevices in the summer. This area also has a fair population of Pine Swifts as well as Black Racers on the upper portion of the trail.