|Staff dresses in period garb while operating the canal boat|
|The Charles F. Mercer approaching Lock 20|
|Two of the park's four mules pulling the Charles F. Mercer|
|A reproduction canal boat in Cumberland, Maryland|
The canal and its surrounding features are significant for a variety of reasons. By preserving the canal and its historic structures, the park creates a window into the infrastructural development of the country during the period of industrialization. It is one of the most frequented recreational trails in the country and provides many access points to the Potomac river. It creates a wildlife corridor, buffering the Potomac and protecting one of the most biologically diverse areas in the country. And it preserves evidence of thousands of years of human habitation.
Some of this is immediately evident and some requires more instruction, but what is important about interpretation is creating a connection between the visitor and the material, helping to foster their own interest. For example, if you were a kid in a canal family, you would have spent a great deal of time tied to the roof of the boat picture below.
|Great Falls Tavern and Lock 20|
|Tamping down the new towpath material|
|We had a volunteer who wanted to help out but couldn't quite lend a hand|
The biggest takeaway from this week is without a doubt the importance of volunteers and partner organizations. Nine times out of ten when you come to the C&O Canal, it will be a volunteer that you interact with rather than an actual NPS employee. They help staff the visitor centers, go on bike and kayak patrols, they are the trail stewards, run the bike loaner program, and come out to do maintenance for events like this one. Partner organizations like the C&O Canal Trust, Friends of Great Falls Tavern, and the C&O Canal Association and the volunteers that make up their membership are integral to the functioning of this park. The uniqueness of the canal in terms of size and shape, coupled with the staffing and funding impediments faced by the park service as a whole, means the C&O Canal must be creative in its problem solving to continue to protect its resources and provide for public enjoyment. Superintendent Kevin Brandt has even said that C&O stands for Challenges and Opportunities. Luckily there is such robust support for the canal in its surrounding communities, which has allowed for many a volunteer based creative solution to take place, something that will likely be occurring more and more frequently in parks across the country.