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 firstname.lastname@example.org or post it on your social media feeds with the hashtag #MyCanalStory.
Michael Mitchell, Former Board Chair of the C&O Canal Trust
C&O Canal Trust: What is your history with the C&O Canal?
Mike Mitchell: I first visited the C&O Canal Park in 1975 when I moved to the Washington area for graduate school, running and cycling on the towpath when I had time away from studies. I visited the Park with greater frequency beginning in 1992 when I became an adult leader in the Cub Scout and Boy Scout programs in the River Falls neighborhood in Potomac, with dozens of camping, cycling, and hiking events in the Park with the Scouts over the years. In 1999 I began long distance cycling trips with friends on the towpath, and in the ensuing years have cycled on the towpath from Cumberland to DC five times and from Pittsburgh to DC twice. In 2012 I was invited to join the Board of the C&O Canal Trust and for several years chaired the Program Committee of the Trust. From 2014 through 2018 I chaired the Board of Directors of the Trust. I am an avid photographer and six of my ten exhibits to date have featured images from the Park. The Park continues to be my “go to” place for time in nature, peace and reflection, and I am in the Park on average three times a week.
C&O Canal Trust: During your time volunteering with the Trust, what is your favorite project you have been a part of?
Mike Mitchell: While it was not a “project” per se, my four years as Board Chairman of the Canal Trust provided me my fondest memories and sense of accomplishment in regard to the Park. That experience afforded me a great opportunity to spend extensive time in the Park, attain a familiarity with the entire 184.5 miles of the Park, and to have a sense of legacy impact on my community adjacent to the Park as well as the entire span of the Park. It also gave me the opportunity to develop a range of new friendships with fellow Board members, the incredibly dedicated Canal Trust staff, and the National Park Service leadership and staff of the C&O. If I were to pick one favorite specific project on which I was a participant it would be the acquisition and installation of the new Marsden Bridge seen in the photography below.
C&O Canal Trust: Do you have a favorite canal memory?
Mike Mitchell: It would be impossible to select a single favorite canal memory. I have a kaleidoscope of fond memories including cycling the length of the towpath multiple times with the Four Amigo friends from my days in the aerospace industry; hiking the entire length of the Park last September with a neighbor and current Canal Trust Board member in support of the Canal Trust mission; endless hours of photography in the Park in all seasons and all times of day; walks in the Park with fellow Canal Trust Board members; hiking, cycling, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing in the Park; staying on overnights in the Canal Quarters lock houses with friends and family; and the sense of mission and achievement in working with the Canal Trust Board and staff, and the National Park Service staff in support of the Park.
C&O Canal Trust: What is your favorite spot on the canal?
Mike Mitchell: My favorite spot on the canal is wherever I happen to be on the canal at that moment. Then entire 184.5 miles of the Park is a celebration of nature.
C&O Canal Trust: What does the canal mean to you?
Mike Mitchell: I like to tell people that I have three sanctuaries in my life, Bethesda United Methodist Church, Washington Nationals Park, and the C&O Canal National Historical Park. BUMC services are on YouTube and no fans in Nats Stadium now because of the pandemic, leaving the C&O Canal Park an ever more important place to spend time with friends, enjoy nature, to reflect and to recharge. The C&O Canal Park is a place for adventure and discovery, but it also is a deeply spiritual place for me.