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Interview with Marea Petrelles, Volunteer Canal Steward

By Blog, Content
  1.  How long have you been a Canal Steward in the Park?

Marea: I have been a Canal Steward for two years, since December 11, 2018.

  1. Why do you volunteer as a canal steward?

Marea: I volunteer because I love being outdoors.  It feels right to me to look after and care for our natural resources.  It gives me pleasure to be of some help in taking care of an area so others can enjoy the area!  Now more than ever I think this is important!

  1. What is your favorite thing about being a Canal Steward?

Marea: One of my favorite things about being a Canal Steward is seeing people enjoy using the park.  Whether it’s a smile from a walker, hiker, jogger or someone taking their boat (kayak, canoe) on the river, it brings simple quiet joy to see my fellow human beings get close to nature!

  1. Finally, what is your favorite spot in the Park?

Marea: One of my favorite spots in the Park is Mather Gorge at Bear Island.  Many fond memories as a child with my siblings and family hiking on our day trips.  The Billy Goat Trail is another favorite and challenging trail as well as the portion of towpath along Mile 19 and 20 near Pennyfield Lock.

  1. Why do you think people should become Canal Stewards?

Marea: Becoming a Canal Steward can bring you a sense of simple purpose.  Serving your local community in this way can have a positive impact on you and the people who visit the Park.  The rewards of maintaining the area in the Park are countless.  Your involvement helps the existing wildlife remain in their habitat by keeping it natural and encourages us human visitors of nature to enjoy the environment and respecting its natural state.

Meet Béla Demeter, Canal Steward

By Blog, Content, Volunteer

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.

Join Béla in becoming a Canal Steward this year! Sign up here.

Letter From Retiring Director of Development, Patricia Barber

By Content

Patricia on the towpath with Sam and Chico

Dear Friends,

Forty years ago when I first visited the C&O Canal, I was 22 and the national park was just nine years old. After decades of flooding and neglect, much of the infrastructure we now take for granted was simply not there. Footbridges to the Great Falls Overlook had been taken out by Hurricane Agnes in 1972. There was no boardwalk at Widewater. Historic aqueducts were crumbling and much of the towpath was in very poor condition. Read More

Trust Receives $20,000 for Canal For All Programming from Rossi Foundation

By Canal For All, Content

Latino Conservation Week 2019 by Trust Staff

Canal For All programming will be coming to Washington County, Maryland, thanks to a new $20,000 grant from the Cornelia Cogswell Rossi Foundation. Started in 2017, Canal For All is the C&O Canal Trust’s outreach program targeted at engaging youth from communities currently underrepresented in the C&O Canal National Historical Park’s visitation and helping them overcome barriers to their participation in Trust and Park programs. Read More

C&O Canal Trust Answers “What Are You Grateful for?”

By Blog, Content, News
The holiday season is almost upon us, and it is bound to look very different this year while we still maintain safe ways of gathering in the midst of a world-wide pandemic. The C&O Canal Trust staff are here to remind you that while the impending holiday season is bound to look a little different this year, we are all so grateful for everything we do have, namely the Park!

Celebrate with us and share what you are also most grateful for this November!

Read More

A biker enjoys the resurfaced towpath.

A Safe, Smooth Towpath: Resurfacing on the C&O Canal

By Content
A biker enjoys the resurfaced towpath.

A biker enjoys the resurfaced towpath. Photo by Simon Barber

Folks walking and biking along the 42 miles of towpath between Edwards Ferry and Lock 38 (Shepherdstown Bridge) are enjoying a whole new experience – gone are the rocks, roots, and ruts, gone the erosion and washouts, gone the deep muddy wallows. Instead, a smooth, firm resurfaced towpath carries visitors safely and trouble-free along the C&O Canal. One delighted user described the new surface as “a revelation.”

Following an engineering study done in 2016 with the assistance of the Allegheny Trail Alliance (ATA), the C&O Canal National Historical Park identified 80 miles of the towpath as urgently in need of rehabilitation. The Park will continue to repair and maintain other sections of the towpath, as needed.

The current towpath surface consists of gravel over clay, which holds water and is prone to muddiness when wet. The new sections are being surfaced with crushed stone dust. On a properly graded surface, this material does not retain water and hardens with use, making it less likely to erode and rut. It is also easier to maintain over time.

2019 marked the first year of the C&O Canal National Historical Park’s multi-year project to comprehensively resurface the 80 miles identified as in most need of rehabilitation. With 42 miles completed so far, there are still 38 miles to go. This project is being funded by the State of Maryland’s Transportation Alternative Program and the C&O Canal Trust. You can help keep the momentum going by making a donation to our Towpath Resurfacing Campaign.

Canal Pride volunteers in Williamsport

Keeping the C&O Canal Beautiful: Volunteer Programs

By Content

Canal Pride volunteers in WilliamsportSpanning 184.5 miles and 20,000 acres, the C&O Canal National Historical Park welcomes nearly 5 million visitors each year. That’s a lot of land for the National Park Service to maintain! As the official nonprofit partner of the Park, the C&O Canal Trust is happy to help out, assisting Park staff in preservation and maintenance projects year-round to keep the C&O Canal clean and beautiful.

Each spring, community members join together during a series of public Canal Pride clean-up events hosted by the Trust that ready the Park for the busy summer season. Volunteers gather at sites up and down the canal to remove trash, spread mulch, rake leaves, pull invasive species, plant gardens, and paint picnic benches, fire rings, and historic buildings. Their efforts save the National Park Service hundreds of thousands of dollars on labor.

Corporate and community groups can partner with the C&O Canal Trust throughout the year on clean-up projects at a favorite area of the Park. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we are also encouraging families and small groups of friends to hold small Personal Canal Pride Day events focused on cleaning up trash.

You can learn more about volunteering for one of the Trust’s clean-up events or make a donation to support our work in the Park. We thank you for your support!

Regulations and Response to COVID-19

By Content

‘Lockhouse 44 Parking Lot Looking Into the Canal’ by Ellen Kinzer

Daily life has changed in drastic ways over the past months. But what has rapidly become apparent is how much the local community loves the C&O Canal National Historical Park. Stay-at-home and safer-at-home orders are keeping us cloistered, but allowances for exercise have sent thousands of people to the towpath for hiking, biking, stress relief, and an escape from the tedium of quarantine. Read More

Canal For All Partner Identity Responds to COVID-19

By Blog, Canal For All, Content

The C&O Canal Trust’s Canal For All program seeks to engage traditionally underrepresented audiences with the canal through education, recreation, and service. The Trust works with several partners in Montgomery County to bring groups of youth out to the C&O Canal National Historical Park for unique experiences, and one of those partners is Identity. 

Identity was founded in 1998 to serve Latino youth and their families. Today, they provide a variety of programs to the Latino communities of Montgomery County including after school and workforce development programs, a parent leadership academy, recreation activities, and more.

Identity has been a part of the Canal for All program since 2016. They have participated in a variety of activities with the Trust, including Canal Pride Days and Latino Conservation Week, which brings youth out to the C&O Canal and exposes them to nature through hiking, biking, rock climbing, and service activities.

“The environment and climate change are such important topics right now, and teaching youth the importance of nature and our parks is critical,” said Identity’s Program Director Nora Morales. “The only way to instill that is through experience. If you can create a connection to a place for a child, you’re instilling in them the value of protecting their environment. They get to pass that love of nature down to their children.” 

During the COVID-19 health crisis, Identity has been working hard to provide essential services to their community. Many Latino families cannot get to supply distribution sites so Identity has delivered food, medical supplies, toilet paper, and Chromebooks (to facilitate distance learning for children) directly to them. They have also been helping families navigate rental and utility assistance programs, and the unemployment process. In addition, they are providing critical health education about COVID-19 and ways to prevent its spread. 

Like many organizations, Identity has had to adapt and move much of its programming online. They are currently offering virtual after-school programs, one-on-one tutoring, and YouTube programs to their communities. Learn more about Identity and all the great work they are doing to support Latino families in Montgomery County here

“Our mission is to help Latino and other marginalized communities in Montgomery County thrive,” said Program Director, Nora Morales. “Families are usually economically isolated and children tend to miss out on recreational and cultural activities. We are constantly looking for new partners to provide new and unique experiences.”

Read more about the Canal for All program here

Show Your Canal Pride From Home

By Blog, Canal Pride, Content

The C&O Canal Trust’s Canal Pride Days events bring hundreds of volunteers to the Park to perform maintenance and preservation tasks aimed at readying the Park for the busy season.

Last year, Canal Pride Days kicked off on April 27 at Paw Paw, where over 30 volunteers came out to work on several projects, including adding stone dust to the Paw Paw Tunnel, beautifying 11 campsites, and filling in potholes.

The following week, on May 4, over 80 volunteers converged on Great Falls. Volunteers worked on repainting the mule shed, painting picnic tables, cleaning the fee booth area, and spreading over 40 cubic yards of mulch. Volunteers from the Friends of the Historic Great Falls Tavern worked on cleaning the tavern and the Charles F. Mercer canal boat.

The final event was held on May 18 at Cushwa Basin in Williamsport with 56 volunteers picking up trash, cleaning exhibits in the trolley barn, and planting native plants in front of Lockhouse 44.

Canal Pride 2019 at Great Falls by Simon Barber

This year, our 13th annual Canal Pride Days events have been postponed due to COVID-19. When stay-at-home restrictions lift, we will be ready to hit the ground running with our Canal Pride activities, working in small teams to beautify the Park and return it to its pre-COVID levels of maintenance.

However, there are several ways you can safely show your Canal Pride by caring for the environment in your own neighborhood. Take a walk outside if you are able to and pick up trash along the way. If you feel comfortable doing so, you can also pick up any pet waste that you see to prevent it from ending up in waterways.

Another way to show your pride is in your own backyard! Cultivate native plants in your garden and help them thrive by removing any invasive plant species. Native plants provide forage for pollinators like butterflies and honeybees and support greater biodiversity than invasives. For resources on native and invasive plants, visit the Maryland Native Plant Society and the Maryland Invasive Species Council.

 

Drawn by Sweet Nectar by MJ Clingan

Additionally, the Park’s volunteer office has put together some resources for staying engaged:

City Nature Challenge – creating an inventory of the flora and fauna in your own communities through iNaturalist. For more information, please visit: https://citynaturechallenge.org/

Zooniverse – virtual citizen science projects for almost any interest. https://www.zooniverse.org/

Smithsonian citizen science projects:  https://www.si.edu/volunteer/citizenscience

Maryland Department of Natural Resources projects: https://dnr.maryland.gov/Pages/Community_Science_Resources.aspx

Chesapeake Monitoring Cooperative – supports local organizations in water quality monitoring efforts and provides opportunities for people and organizations to get involved. For more information and a list of partnering organizations offering citizen science projects, please read on here.

Stay engaged with the C&O Canal National Historical Park and the C&O Canal Trust through social media! Follow the Park on Facebook and Instagram, and follow the Trust on Facebook and Instagram for COVID-19 updates, information about the Park, and cool photos. Finally, you can also show your Canal Pride by supporting the Canal Towns! Read about three ways you can do this here.

We look forward to welcoming all of our Canal Pride volunteers back to the park soon, but until then, stay safe and healthy!

C&O Canal Activities to do at Home

By Blog, Content, Things to Do

Great Falls Canal View Credit: Sean Matthews

Stuck at home? You can still engage with the C&O Canal! The C&O Canal Trust has developed several fun activities that you and your family can do to keep engaged and learn new things, all from the comfort of your home! Interested in word puzzles? Complete our canal-themed word search and crossword puzzle. The park also has some cool coloring pages on their Facebook page and a Canal Kids Online Portal with information and activities.

Explore the canal from home by browsing the C&O Canal Trust website, including our Canal Discoveries page which has information about several of the canal’s hidden gems.

Word Search

Download PDF

 

Crossword Puzzle

Test your C&O Canal knowledge with our crossword puzzle. You can complete it below, complete it online, or download and print a PDF.

If you get stumped visit this page to see the solution.

 

Written by Callie Fishburn and Esther Herbers

Women on the C&O Canal

By Blog, Content, History, Stories

Maryland is celebrating the year of the woman in 2021. To celebrate, we are taking a look at the roles women played on the C&O Canal. Much of the canal’s history focuses on men, but Karen Gray, the C&O Canal National Historical Park’s volunteer historian, pieced together information on the canal’s women. Read More

C&O Canal Aqueducts

By Blog, Content, Explore Your Canal, History, Landmarks, Planning Your Visit

Eleven aqueducts stand along the C&O Canal – some of the most impressive of the canal structures that stand today. Aqueducts transported the canal over streams and tributaries. Several have been rebuilt, including the Conococheague Aqueduct in Williamsport, which is watered and is one of the only places in the country where you can ride a boat over an aqueduct. The eleven aqueducts are all different – the stone they were constructed with varies, including red sandstone, grey limestone, white granite, white and pink quartzite. Some have fallen apart and exist only as ruins, while others have been lovingly restored by the National Park Service to their former glory. All stand testament to the engineering ingenuity and devoted labor that went into their construction and the important role they played in the growth of our country. Read More

Canal for All: A Reflection Four Years In

By Blog, Canal For All, Content

In October of 2016, almost four years ago, the Canal for All Pilot Phase was launched thanks to a grant provided by the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) and the Kendeda Fund. The two-year pilot initiative focused on connecting African-American and Latinx communities in Montgomery County with the C&O Canal National Historical Park (NHP) through the themes of work, play, learn and serve. 

Throughout those two years, the C&O Canal Trust formed ten new partnerships with local government, nonprofits, and businesses, and provided access to the park through fee-free overnight experiences and recreational programming. Read more about the launch of Canal for All and its efforts to engage underrepresented audiences here and here

In 2018 the Trust received a $19,000 grant from the Montgomery County Council to launch a Conservation Jobs Corps (CJC) program. The program was implemented in the spring of 2019 in partnership with the Montgomery County Department of Recreation’s TeenWorks program and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. The season began with crew of youth volunteering in the park on select Saturdays to work on maintenance and beautification projects. Then, from July of 2019 to early August, CJC crews were employed to provide valuable help with park maintenance projects, and were instrumental in helping the park recover from severe flooding events in Great Falls and the surrounding area. Program participants were exposed to a variety of projects, while also having the opportunity to engage in recreation throughout the park. CJC members also participated in the Trust’s 2019 Canal Pride events. Read more about the CJC here

Teenworks Crew at Great Falls in October 2019

Throughout 2019, the Trust also continued programming with its other partners including Identity Inc. and Community Bridges. Youth from Identity Inc. were able to experience the park through a variety of activities during Latino Conservation Week, and two groups of girls from Community Bridges were given a free overnight stay in Lockhouse 6 accompanied by a mini-lesson from a Canal Classrooms teacher. 

Youth from Identity Inc. on a bike ride during Latino Conservation Week 2019

Looking ahead to the next phase of Canal for All, the Trust plans to continue relevant programming with our partners, foster existing partnerships and seek out new ones, and look for opportunities to expand the Canal for All initiative into other counties and communities. The Trust is also committed to weaving the values of diversity, tolerance, and inclusion into all aspects of our work and increasing the cultural competency of our organization and the C&O Canal NHP. 

Remote Places Along the C&O Canal to Explore While Socially Distancing

By Blog, Content, Explore Your Canal, Landmarks, Planning Your Visit, Things to Do

Towpath near Shepherdstown by Alma Rebekah Hanna

During this stressful time of social distancing and isolation, it is critically important you take care of your physical and mental health. Fortunately, the C&O Canal National Historical Park can offer you fresh air, relaxation, and a break from the news coverage. The western section of the C&O Canal offers many remote points of interest that are less frequently visited than popular eastern hubs such as Great Falls. Consider visiting some of these western gems along the canal for a stroll or a bike ride along the towpath — but make sure you are following all social distancing guidelines. If you have kids, take our C&O Canal Scavenger Hunt with you!

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African American Heritage Sites Along the C&O Canal

By Blog, Content, Explore Your Canal, History, Landmarks
The C&O Canal is a great place to experience history! Visitors can learn about the construction of the canal in the mid-nineteenth century, the fierce competition between the C&O Canal and the B&O Railroad, and even experience life as a lock keeper with an overnight stay in a historic lockhouse through the Canal Quarters Program. But the C&O Canal is also a great place to learn about African American history in the region. There are many historic churches, communities, and heritage sites along the canal that preserve the African American experience in the 19th and 20th centuries.  Read More

My Time as Chesapeake Conservation Corps Member at the C&O Canal Trust

By Blog, Content, Stories
I have been serving with the C&O Canal Trust as a member of the Chesapeake Conservation Corps. At the C&O Canal Trust, every day is different. I might be at my desk for most of the day, answering emails and working on administrative tasks, and the next day, I could be out in the field scoping out projects for Canal Pride Days or checking on one of the lockhouses in the Canal Quarters program. I am nearly six months into my one-year term at the Trust, and I’ve had the opportunity to work on numerous projects and work closely with the passionate, dedicated staff at the Trust and within the National Park Service (NPS). 

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