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.
Clara Thiel, C&O Canal Botany Fellow
C&O Canal Trust: What is your relationship with the C&O Canal?
Clara: While growing up in Clarke County, VA, my mom would often take my brother and I to bike on the Canal in the summers, starting in Brunswick and biking to Harpers Ferry for an ice cream treat. I currently live in Knoxville, MD, where my fiancé and I enjoy walking or biking on the Canal with our dogs almost every evening. I am also currently the Botany Fellow for C&O Canal, and focus on studies relating to rare, threatened, and endangered plants along the Potomac River.
C&O Canal Trust: When and how did you become involved with the C&O Canal / what is your role in the Park?
Clara: In spring 2020 I was offered a brief internship with C&O Canal to assist with surveys of rare, threatened, and endangered plant populations. In March 2021 I began working as the Park’s Botany Fellow and lead the RTE monitoring efforts.
C&O Canal Trust: What is your favorite part about working with the Park?
Clara: I have really enjoyed seeing the diversity of natural resources that are found within the Park – C&O Canal is so unique! I have learned about so many different plant species and ecosystems, which has inspired me to focus my current research on species adapted to high-stress environments.
C&O Canal Trust: Do you have a favorite plant that you have seen on the canal?
Clara: It’s hard to pick, but some of my favorites are two rare grasses, Melica nitens (three-flowered melic grass) and Melica mutica (two-flowered melic grass). Both of these species produce beautiful, relatively large fruits for grasses, and are restricted to specific soils and rock outcrop communities.
C&O Canal Trust: Do you have a favorite memory of the Park?
Clara: I have so many to choose from, but my favorite by far is when I got engaged. My boyfriend proposed to me at Lockhouse 75, where we then saw two otters swimming in the canal!
C&O Canal Trust: What is your favorite place or section of the Park?
Clara: The Paw Paw bends and Great Falls areas are my favorite places in the Park to work. Both have such unique natural histories and provide high-quality habitat for several rare and interesting plant species.