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Community besieged by rafters

August 18, 1998

Local Residents beseiged by raftersBy SHEILA HOTCHKIN / Staff Writer

photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer [enlarge]




ANTIETAM - Residents of the southern Washington County community of Antietam say rafters who flock there each weekend are turning their lives upside down.

Their complaints have sparked a flurry of activity, including an informal meeting Tuesday morning attended by residents, officials of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park and county roads department employees.

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"This little village here is all in an uproar about this - that we don't have any rights," said Pat Otzelberger, who led the charge to end the weekend disruptions.

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Rafters come from other areas to float down Antietam Creek to a bridge near the C&O Canal, where they finish their ride, Otzelberger said.

Problems arise when the visitors park their cars or buses illegally, block traffic, or trespass in neighboring yards, she said.

Otzelberger described weekends during which buses and cars blocked traffic and parked in private yards, despite posted "no parking" and "no trespassing" signs.

One bus driver parked on her property last weekend and refused to move when she confronted him, Otzelberger said.

"He told me to prove that I own that ground," she said.

Visitors cripple traffic by parking around the one-lane bridge over Antietam Creek where the rafters leave the water, said Jerry Crampton, whose home is past the bridge on Harpers Ferry Road.

He described incidents of public urination and profanity, and an occasion in which a rafter changed in his yard as his family sat on the porch.

"And my sister, she said, 'That man's naked down there,'" he said.

Said Otzelberger: "When they move in, they think they own the whole village of Antietam. They park on your grass, they throw pop bottles on your grass, they play with your toys, they break toys, they block traffic."

Debbie Ayers, a C&O Canal park spokeswoman said she felt the meeting was productive.

"One of the things that we needed to do is clarify a few of the points that the residents had made," she said.

Ayers said park officials will schedule a meeting with the outfitter to discuss the residents' concerns.

Otzelberger remained wary.

"If the community down here doesn't keep pushing them and pushing them, that's the last you'll see of (the park service)," she said.

Ayers told residents that park officials were committed to following through on the matter.

But the process that the federal agency must follow does not allow for an immediate solution, Ayers cautioned.

"Unfortunately with our process, it's going to take a few days," she said. "It won't happen instantaneously."

River & Trail Outfitters Inc., of Knoxville, Md., has an incidental business permit with the park service that allows the company to pick up or drop off customers on park property, Ayers said.

Lee Baihly, a manager of River & Trail Outfitters Inc., confirmed that he had been in touch with the park service.

He said he was aware of complaints about improperly parked cars, but said that is usually beyond an outfitter's control.

Baihly said the problems could be related to other outfitters as well.

"To single us out is grossly unfair, because there are a number of businesses and individuals that recreate on Antietam Creek," he said.

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