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Canal Community Story

Canal Community Story: Jim Shea

By Canal Community Story

Celebrate your love for the C&O Canal by sharing your personal story about the Park. 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, fill out the form below, email it to us at info@canaltrust.org or post it on your social media feeds with the hashtag #MyCanalStory. We could use your story here on our website!

Tell Us Your Canal Story

Jim Shea, Author of Get Up and Ride

Jim Shea is author of Get Up and Ride. In this Canal Community Story, he shares an excerpt from his book which is an account of his experience riding the entire length of the C&O Canal. You can purchase his book on Amazon here.

Marty and I left the Antietam Visitor’s Center and stepped out into the heat, fully exposed to the sun. We were at the highest point in the battlefield and could see for miles in every direction. We looked out over the Cornfield – with the stalks nearly as high as they would have been in September – and were amazed that so many men could die so quickly in such a small area. We sensed the gravity of what had happened on these fields over 150 years ago.

We rode our bikes around the entire battlefield. By now it was over ninety degrees and humid. We saw the sites of the other battles, including “Bloody Lane,” where 5,500 men perished in the morning in a fierce firefight. We saw many monuments built as tributes to each of the brigades decimated that day. After about an hour, we were really hot, and Marty took cover under a tree and sucked on his water bottle.

“We gotta get outta here,” he said.

I eased my bike down the hill and joined him under the tree. “Yeah, it’s really hot.”

I got out a map and saw what looked to be a shortcut which would take us back to the C&O trail. Marty wanted to simply retrace our path back to where we originally exited the trail, but I convinced him to try the shortcut.

We began pedaling out in the heat. What the map did not show was the changes in elevation on my “shortcut.” The road took us up a huge hill – I made it about halfway up and then had to walk my bike. During the ascent, the skies started to darken. Suddenly, a massive thunderstorm broke out.

We were immediately soaked. Then the lightning started, and the thunder was deafening. Things went from uncomfortable to dangerous in less than a minute. After we crested the top of the hill, we rode our bikes downhill in the driving rain, looking for cover.

The first building we passed was a dilapidated house with a covered porch on the front. I had gone on Appalachian mission trips with my sons for several summers, and we often worked on houses that looked like this one. Today, this house would save us.

We decided we needed to get on that porch, no matter who or what was in the house. Boldly, we carried our bikes up on the porch and breathed a sigh of relief at being out of the rain and lightning.

Once we’d caught our breath, we peered in through the front windows. No sign of life. We knocked on the door, and a few seconds later, a woman in her fifties came out, followed by an elderly woman who we quickly determined was her mother. We introduced ourselves and explained our situation. The younger woman, Janet, was extremely gracious and immediately went inside and reappeared with two bottles of ice-cold water – just what we needed!

We told her about our trip. The elderly woman watched us but didn’t speak. Janet told us that her mother had dementia. Janet worked at the Maryland state maximum security prison in nearby Hagerstown, Maryland, and began to tell us about some of the prisoners and several harrowing escape attempts. It was a great conversation and a wonderful chance encounter.

As we conversed, the rain eased up and the thunderstorm passed through. We asked Janet about the best way to get back to the C&O Canal trail. She pointed to the route and explained it, which sounded a bit complicated and involved several turns. Marty and I looked at each other and nodded – we were pretty sure we’d gotten it.

Just before we left, the elderly woman spoke! She said something about the directions to the trail:

“Trail… miss… back up hill… wrong way… long time…”

She was hard to understand, and we tried to make out what she was saying.

“Miss… trail… hill…road… long way back…”

Marty and I could not make sense of her words.

“Hey Mom, these guys need to get on their way,” Janet said to her mother dismissively.

We thanked them both, then got on our bikes and headed down the road.

We found the first turn Janet had indicated, and then the second. We headed downhill to what we thought would be the C&O trail. But we saw no sign or indication of the trail.  Then the road started heading uphill, and we followed it for a while – no trail. Marty stopped. I stopped behind him.

“Jimbo, remember what that old lady said?”

“Not really, I couldn’t make it out,” I replied.

“Something about missing the trail and the road heading back uphill?” said Marty.

“Yeah…”

“I think she was saying that it was easy to miss the trail, and if we missed it, the road would head back uphill and we would end up riding on the road in the wrong direction for a long while,” said Marty.

“Yeah, but she didn’t know what she was talking about.”

“Well, this feels like what she was talking about. Let’s head back down.”

We aimed our bikes back downhill and, sure enough, we found a small sign marking the trail at the bottom of the hill.

“That old lady was right!” said Marty.

“Probably saved us a bunch of time,” I said.

By now, with the Antietam stop, my mis-directions, the rain and the stop on the porch, we were running late. It would be getting dark by the time we’d arrive at our stop for the night. We pedaled hard toward Harpers Ferry.

Canal Community Story: Linda Dugan

By Canal Community Story

Celebrate your love for the C&O Canal by sharing your personal story about the Park. 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, fill out the form below, email it to us at info@canaltrust.org or post it on your social media feeds with the hashtag #MyCanalStory. We could use your story here on our website!

Tell Us Your Canal Story

Linda Dugan, great-granddaughter of lock attendant at Lockhouse 28

My name is Helen Linda Dugan my brother’s name is Donald William Creager and my sister is Lisa Fulton Hutzler. We are the children of Helen Mae Fulton Creager. Our mother Helen was the  granddaughter of William Henry Fulton who was the last known lock attendant at lockhouse 28. My brother and sister and I have been renting the lockhouse in Point of Rocks, Maryland for many years now. We also  bring some of our other family members to join us. We go there every year around May the 17th because that was our late mother’s birthday. We go there to be close to our ancestors and celebrate our mother’s birthday.  We usually plant a flower and we always sing Happy Birthday and we even have cake. Our mother was raised by her Aunt Doris  and Uncle Walter who lived on the hill across from the Lockhouse 28.  Our Great great grandfather William Henry Fulton was the last known Lock attendant.  Our mother told stories of how she grew up along the river.

She told us about the Flood of  ’36, It was a real bad flood. She said she saw animals and chickens washed down the river, clinging to rooftops. As a little girl she had a 6′ hand carved wooden Indian that was given to her by the local store owner. It was a cigar display of some sort. She loved her wooden Indian but the flood took it away, which made her very sad. She also told stories of travelers and hobos, how they would stop at the house when they were hungry, and they would feed them. They used wood and coal to heat by and kerosene lanterns to see by at night. And let me tell you when it’s dark it is dark along the towpath and lock house. The only light you will see is a firefly  and an occasional train. There are still pieces and parts of houses across the tracks along the mountain part of the towpath that most people don’t even know  existed. Great Uncle’s Walter and Willie Fulton Jr lived in those houses with their families. We enjoy the towpath and It makes us happy to visit and remember our  Family history.
Before we go to sleep we sing Happy Birthday to our late mother.
I know it might sound a little strange but we feel the presence of our mom and relatives that once lived there a long towpath at lock 28.

Canal Community Story: Sarah Brown

By Canal Community Story

Celebrate your love for the C&O Canal by sharing your personal story about the Park. 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, fill out the form below, email it to us at info@canaltrust.org or post it on your social media feeds with the hashtag #MyCanalStory. We could use your story here on our website!

Tell Us Your Canal Story

Sarah Brown, Biological Technician at the C&O Canal National Historical Park

C&O Canal Trust: How did you hear about the C&O Canal?
Sarah: I had first heard of the C&O Canal through two good friends I met while attending James Madison University for graduate school. They rode the full Canal one summer and came back telling me all the great things about their trip and about the Park. Since I am not from the area, I was very surprised to learn there exists this long national park that follows the Potomac River and is ideal for walking and biking. However, I was living in Virginia at the time and was not very near the Park. So, I just knew the C&O Canal existed, but it had not taken shape as a place to visit let alone to work. The C&O Canal finally took shape when I worked with the USGS last summer on a project monitoring bees and flowers among several national parks including the C&O Canal. During that summer, I would travel to sites within the Park for work and would bike the towpath as much as I could in my free time!

C&O Canal Trust: Tell us about your professional background.
Sarah: I am fairly early in my, hopefully, long career in plant monitoring, ecological restoration, and natural resource management. Prior to joining the Park, I primarily worked field technician positions, but the projects and locations of these positions have varied. One project was exploring the use of native plants in sustainable and water efficient landscaping in Texas. Another project was in south-eastern Ohio on former surface coal mine land where we were restoring the forest understory with native plantings and invasive species removal. For another project I was based in Virginia and traveled to West Virginia to monitor pollinators visiting flowers present in a steep-sloping, dry, shale substrate environment known as a shale barren. The USGS project last summer was my most recent work before joining the C&O Canal. 

C&O Canal Trust: What is your position with the C&O Canal NHP, and what does the job entail?
Sarah: My position title is biological science technician, which can be a catch-all position for managing and executing natural resource management projects with the Park. This mean I spend much of my time out in the park completing vegetation surveys, recording any rare plant occurrences, and fulfilling the field work necessary for any additional research or monitoring projects occurring in the Park. However, my most important focus is leading the Park’s Rare Plant Propagation project. The goal of the project is to harvest seed material from wild populations in the Park, grow the material, and plant grown material back into the Park. This means that most of my time is spent monitoring documented rare plant populations for their flower and fruit production, collecting seeds, and preparing collected material to be grown by our greenhouse partner. 

C&O Canal Trust: Can you talk about the Rare Plants Initiative with the Park?
Sarah: Thanks to the C&O Canal’s proximity to the Potomac River, the Park protects a large stretch of unfragmented, unique, and highly biodiverse riparian forested and open habitats. Included in this biodiversity are a recorded 200 state rare, threatened, and endangered plant species. The Park has a long history of rare plant surveying, with the earliest rare plant occurrence recorded in 1870, and the Park’s Rare Plants Initiative is a continuation of such surveying. The core of the Park’s Rare Plants Initiative is monitoring known occurrences for a population’s persistence in that location, recording any changes in the population, and document threats such as invasive species encroachment or excessive deer browse. Locating new occurrences is certainly included in the initiative, but monitoring is such a high priority because frequently these plants exist in very precarious circumstances and/or in very low numbers so that plants you saw five years ago might not be present today. Thus, our monitoring of known occurrences will go forward to inform us of some of the most threatened plants in the park and any management actions to protect such species. The Park’s newest management action to protect rare plants is the Rare Plant Propagation project. One method of protecting known populations of rare plants is to supplement those populations with more individuals. Thus, the Park’s Rare Plant Propagation project intends to supplement populations by partnering with the Mt. Cuba Center to grow seeds harvested from populations in the park. We are in the first year of the project, so only seed collection has occurred so far. Next year will be our first year of planting material back into the Park, and we’re all eager so see how populations respond to the supplementation.

C&O Canal Trust: Do you have a favorite rare plant?
Sarah: Polygala polygama also known as racemed milkwort! It is such an adorable little plant that grows about 6 to 12 inches tall. The plant produces these tiny delicate but bright pink flowers and has incredibly hairy seeds that look almost like animal fur under a microscope. Keep your eyes open for it between May and July in dry rocky or sandy woodlands and clearings! 

C&O Canal Trust: When you visit the park recreationally, what do you like to do?
Sarah: This may seem so simple, but I enjoy walking the towpath listening to music, a podcast, or audio book. It’s nice to be away from vehicle traffic and just have space to walk as far as I want. 

C&O Canal Trust: Do you have a favorite section of the park?
Sarah: My favorite section of the park has got to be the area around Paw Paw or Bonds Landing. In general, I deeply enjoy the western part of the park because of its scenery, the mountains, and seclusion. Plus, I can find my favorite ecosystem in that part of the park: shale barrens! 

C&O Canal Trust: What have you liked most about working with the C&O Canal?
Sarah: The work environment all around is excellent. I get to work with great people and spend most of my days outside in a beautiful place! 

Canal Community Story: Maryland MINIs

By Canal Community Story

Celebrate your love for the C&O Canal by sharing your personal story about the Park. 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, fill out the form below, email it to us at info@canaltrust.org or post it on your social media feeds with the hashtag #MyCanalStory. We could use your story here on our website!

Tell Us Your Canal Story

Maryland MINIs: Canal Community Day Volunteers

Photo Credit: Francis Grant-Suttie

C&O Canal Trust: Who are the Maryland MINIs? What do you do /  what is your mission?
Maryland MINIs: Maryland MINIs was created when a small band of MINI owners formed our group on social media in late 2021. Since then, we have grown to 236 active members, representing Mini models from over three decades. Not satisfied with just standing around in parking lots admiring our Minis or trading posts over the internet, our mission is to be a bona fide “community on wheels” dedicated to exploring all the beautiful parts of Maryland and surrounding mid-Atlantic area and making a positive impact on the community that we share.  We are a diverse group of mature, friendly, and fun-loving people of all ages and life experiences who share the passion for our unique cars. Our events usually consist of about 15 to 20 cars, depending on the weather and where our adventures take us, however an Event to the GUINNESS Brewery in Baltimore drew over 40 cars, from all regions of our great State.  

C&O Canal Trust: What inspired you to volunteer with the C&O Canal Trust?
Maryland MINIs: Part of the mission of Maryland MINIs is the pride of being part of the Maryland tradition of giving back. Maryland MINIs Administrators create spontaneous events that invite members to be active in our State and local communities. These events allow our members to enjoy a brisk and satisfying motoring experience, an opportunity for membership bonding, as well as the pride and accomplishment of helping to make Maryland a better place.

C&O Canal Trust: Describe your experience at the Canal Community Days event. How did you come to learn about the event? What project(s) were you responsible for? What did you enjoy most about the event
Maryland MINIs: Maryland MINIs subscribes to many non-profit organizations, which enables us to learn about and participate in community events that are a good fit what for what we feel we can offer. Obviously, we are “transportation nuts” by nature, so it was intriguing to visit and help preserve another form of transportation that was such a part of our state’s history.

Our group was assigned to the general gardening group, and we helped to rehab a picnic area.  We weeded, spread rock dust, planted flowers, and mulched.  The result was a great location for visitors to the canal to come, picnic, and enjoy the beauty.

The beautiful drive to Williamsport via ALT Route 40 to the winding roads of Route 68 to the Canal Area fed our enjoyment of our hobby and the wonderful park and buildings served as a great backdrop for photographs of the cars that we love. 

C&O Canal Trust: What is your favorite section / location in the Park?
Maryland MINIs: Currently Georgetown, Great Falls, and Williamsport, Maryland are three C&O Canal locations that are favored by Maryland MINIs. However, we will be planning additional drives and activities at other locations, including Cumberland, Maryland in the very near future.  MINI USA has declared August 26th  “Wave to Friends,” or “WTF day,” in a move to resuscitate the tradition of Mini drivers waving to each other on the road. The so-called “MINI wave”—which amounts to a physical expression of brand loyalty— has fallen out of style of late. So if you see a pack of MINIs on the road “give us a wave”!!

C&O Canal Trust: What does the C&O Canal mean to you?
Maryland MINIs: MINIs have their own history and legacy in car folklore, so the C&O Canal, with its rich place in the transportation history of our region was a great fit for our Car Club to resonate with.  The fact that it has been strategically associated with many historical events makes it even more important to preserve the canal and highlight the economic, industrial, and commercial history of our region and Country for future generations.

 

Maryland MINIs C&O Canal Crew (who participated in the cleanup)

Victoria Bremseth

Tre Clark

Mark De Fries

Michael Fewster

Tammy Fewster

Debbie Huber

Jerame Puffenbarger

Dan Nielsen

Bette Phelps

Canal Community Story: Tammy Giberson

By Canal Community Story

Celebrate your love for the C&O Canal by sharing your personal story about the Park. 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, fill out the form below, email it to us at info@canaltrust.org or post it on your social media feeds with the hashtag #MyCanalStory. We could use your story here on our website!

Tell Us Your Canal Story

Tammy Giberson: TowpathGO Fundraiser, Canal Community Days Volunteer, and C&O Canal Lover

Tammy Giberson at Canal Community Days

There’s a place tucked into Maryland that is also tucked away in my heart: the C&O Canal NHP. From humble beginning to roaring majesty, the Potomac River creates the perfect setting of history and harmony. On July 4, 1828, groundbreaking ceremonies for the C&O and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad were held only miles apart. The two companies would have an intertwined relationship for over 100 years. Ultimately the Iron Horse would live on while the mule drawn boats would survive only in pictures and memory. If the canal was almost doomed from the beginning, why bother to continue building? Why put in effort and resources for a lesser option? I am drawn to this place because life sometimes seems like it has the same challenges.

I rediscovered the Towpath in a time of my life that felt like failure. All my well paved good intentions and plans had blown up into gravel. The hard packed trail was the perfect metaphor. Slowly my perspective shifted from the ground under my weary feet to the trees, the river, the birds. The life. Suddenly one day it dawned on me that while the original purpose of the C&O Canal was no longer relevant, it did not mean that it was not valuable. That shift in thought about the park translated into my life. I was “this” before; I am “that” now.

Photo Credit: Tammy Giberson

The Iron Horses of job, home maintenance, and the endless list of daily chores can peacefully coincide with the quiet guidance of faith, family, and friends. The first rolls on because it must; the second travels because I choose it.

So how do I show my love to a place? How do I represent the person I’m becoming to the area that is helping create a new me? Volunteer. Take every opportunity to serve. I can be part of organized events like Canal Days. Sometimes it’s simply showing up with the sun, trash bags in hand, to scavenge debris left behind by others. I can talk to people while I’m out adventuring about the history of our location. I’m always hopeful I’ll instill a sense of respect or gratitude into the next generation. I travel with a toy fox as a mascot and an ice breaker. Zee gets a lot of attention!

TowpathGo gives myself and others the chance to adventure and advocate at the same time. It’s not about just putting in miles. It’s raising tangible funds for practical upkeep. Romanticizing the past does not take us into the future. We live in the present. We can act now. I can act now. If many people do one small task and/or donate a few dollars then that many more people can enjoy the park.

Photo Credit: Tammy Giberson

I want to preserve the C&O Canal NHP for future generations. Maybe there is another who, like me, will find their way back to wholeness in the stillness. In the beauty. I want some wayward traveler to visit and know their life has purpose. Has meaning. Has value. The C&O has taught me these things. I want to share that love and joy.

Canal Community Story: Zack Ayisi

By Canal Community Story

Celebrate your love for the C&O Canal by sharing your personal story about the Park. 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, fill out the form below, email it to us at info@canaltrust.org or post it on your social media feeds with the hashtag #MyCanalStory. We could use your story here on our website!

Tell Us Your Canal Story

Zack Ayisi, TeenWorks Crew Leader and Canal Community Days Volunteer

C&O Canal Trust: What is TeenWorks?

Zack: TeenWorks is pretty much a way for teens to get involved with the community and give back and learn leadership skills while working. Now they have a volunteer process where you volunteer for 50 hours, and then you become a leader or ‘green shirt.’ This pretty much allows you to work at high schools or elementary schools, and you become a familiar face in the community.

Zack Ayisi at Great Falls by Francis Grant-Suttie

C&O Canal Trust: What exactly is your job?

Zack: So, I’m a red shirt, which is pretty much the same thing, in a way. The only difference, I guess, is honestly the pay, but I still go around and help different programs. I work at my old high school, as an outlet for kids to come relax, enjoy, and have fun with us. We are pretty much a safe space for them, and we have other red shirts at EBB (Excel Beyond the Bell), which is an enrichment program for younger kids. They have learning activities, and they have other contractors come and provide different activities such as a soccer game or fitness program.

C&O Canal Trust: How did you get involved with TeenWorks?

Zack: My senior year, I had attended a program as a culinary student. I used that to get my hours, and then after an interview, I got hired and worked for CJC. In the summer, I cleaned up the community, like weeding around libraries and other places in Montgomery County. I would really encourage other kids to get involved with TeenWorks, because it really creates different avenues for you growing up. I didn’t think when I was in high school, I would join CJC or help out in parades. I never thought I would go kayaking. It exposes you to so many different things.

C&O Canal Trust: How many times have you volunteered with the Park?

Zack: Last week, at Canal Community Days on April 23 at Great Falls was my second time at the C&O Canal.

C&O Canal Trust: What other event did you attend?

Zack: We seeded the grass around the bathrooms by Great Falls. After that, we went for a little walk, and cleaned up while we were walking.

C&O Canal Trust: What was it like volunteering this past weekend at Great Falls?

Zack: I enjoyed it. When you take care of something personally, you feel good about it because you want to see it being taken care of forever.

C&O Canal Trust: Do you visit the Park in your own time?

Zack: I would like to, but I haven’t visited on my own. I did, the first time I went, I enjoyed the view of the rapids at Great Falls near the Billy Goat Trail. I saw the falls, and I enjoyed it. I saw a couple guys kayaking! I think the Park is very beautiful, and I’ve been on hikes and stuff, but I just think that scenery was a bit different for me to see.

TeenWorks at Great Falls by Francis Grant-Suttie

Canal Community Story: Steff Smith

By Canal Community Story

Celebrate your love for the C&O Canal by sharing your personal story about the Park. 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, fill out the form below, email it to us at info@canaltrust.org or post it on your social media feeds with the hashtag #MyCanalStory. We could use your story here on our website!

Tell Us Your Canal Story

Steff Smith, Leader for Devils Backbone Brewing Company Volunteer Stewardship Program

Photo by Steff Smith

My name is Steff Smith and I am the Senior Sales Analyst for Devils Backbone Brewing Company. We are an alcoholic beverage company with a HUGE passion for the outdoors, people and leaving the world a better place than we found it. I don’t just live in the numbers, though. I am the stewardship coordinator and Women in Beer lead for the company as well. In so many words, I take the passion I have for volunteering with our parks, waterways and trails and use it to organize stewardship events for our whole company.

A little about the Devils Backbone’s Stewardship program for you. This is a core value of our mission and company values. We commit to a certain number of hours as a company each year and incentivize our employees to complete those hours by donating a dollar amount in their name to the nonprofit of their choice. When an employee completes 8 hours of volunteering in a year, we then donate $100 to their passion point nonprofit. This has been something we have been very proud of for years and are going to continue to push for years to come. Our goal for this year is 1,000 hours in 2022!!

When I joined Devils Backbone about 3 years ago, I saw this as an opportunity to get my family and friends involved as well. What could be better than getting my 11 year old daughter out in the wilderness to clean up our world?! (With some complaining, of course.) It has been a great bonding experience for us, and we enjoy working with the C&O Canal Trust at least once a month in the summer. These were not my first encounters with the Trust, however. I first volunteered with the Trust in my mid-20s at Weverton, Maryland, painting benches. My employer at the time had a relationship with the Trust, and every year at least once, we would make time to come help keep the parks looking beautiful.

Photo by Steff Smith

I can not compare the feeling after having helped to clean up our parks with anything else. Sure you get dirty, you get tired, you may or may not get some bumps and bruises – but seeing the amount of waste you can get out of natures habitat is truly rewarding. This year, a professional goal of mine is to get our Team at Devils Backbone to complete 1,000 hours of volunteer service. A personal goal of mine is to get my daughter and her friends involved at least once a month in the summer time – out of the phones and into the outdoors to help our world!!

Canal Community Story: Steven Steinbach

By Canal Community Story

Celebrate your love for the C&O Canal by sharing your personal story about the Park. 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, fill out the form below, email it to us at info@canaltrust.org or post it on your social media feeds with the hashtag #MyCanalStory. We could use your story here on our website!

Tell Us Your Canal Story

Steven Steinbach, Runner on the C&O Canal

Steven Steinbach in Cumberland

Running the Entire Towpath

Well, that’s a slightly misleading title. Yes, I ran the towpath’s 184.5-mile length, from Georgetown to Cumberland. But never more than eight miles at a time, and usually in chunks of five or six – and not exactly speedily, given my age, ability, and day job. 

Steven’s Running Log

Starting in late winter with crusty ice on the trail and finishing in mid fall on a carpet of fallen leaves, I ran through dense fog, rain, pre-sunrise darkness, and sweltering heat and humidity, but, more often than not, sparkling weather – sometimes dodging caravans of bikers, but often going for an hour or two without meeting another soul. Amidst spectacular natural beauty, I encountered herons, ducks, turtles, frogs, a snake, scores of deer, turkey vultures, woodpeckers, hawks, and an eagle, along with horseflies, mosquitoes, and cicadas – and in the distant headlights on one pitch-black morning on the road to Little Orleans, if not a bobcat, then surely Maryland’s largest fox. Tracking, mile by mile, Mike High’s C&O Canal Companion, I immersed myself in the history of the canal and its environment, learning as much as I could about locks and lockkeepers, canal boats and traffic, tunnels and slackwater, Potomac floods and Civil War crossings. 

All of us are indebted to Justice Douglas for creating this national treasure and to the C&O Canal Trust and the National Park Service for its preservation. On a personal level, I’m grateful for my supportive (yet slightly bemused) family, my trainer Maria Brown, who kept my body working, and my student Jack Leonard, whose research paper got me first interested in exploring the canal.

Steven Steinbach at Mile Marker 0

This project was not without two significant wrinkles. First, because I was alone, I’d run and then be forced to double back to where I had parked the car. The silver lining? This means I’ve walked, as well as run, the towpath’s length. Second, the farther I’d get from home along the towpath, the longer and longer the drives, first along River Road, then I-270, and then I-70. The silver lining? Listening to lots of audiobooks.

When I finally made it to Cumberland and saw the sign – only 149 miles along the Great Allegheny Passage to Pittsburgh! – I was sorely tempted. Too much driving, though. So, I thought, why not run the towpath again? And I’ve just reached mile marker 67.