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Miller leaves Canal panel

March 24, 2000|By ANDREA ROWLAND

DOWNSVILLE - Most people get a gold watch. Edward Miller got a canal boat.

The engraved wooden replica was a token of recognition for Miller's many years of work as a federal commissioner for the C&O Canal National Historical Park Advisory Commission.

He recently stepped down from his post.

The job was more than just a walk in the park for Miller, 72, of Downsville.

For much of his 18 years on the commission, he pushed the National Park Service to implement the upgrades necessary to ensure the continuity of the towpath.

"I've been on there almost 20 years. It's time to let somebody else take it," said Miller, who has already recommended his successor to the Washington County Commissioners.

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"I want somebody on there who knows what they're doing. Somebody who can stand up to the park service and tell 'em, 'No, we don't want that.'"

Advisory commissioners must be able to cut through the tension that underlies the relationship between them and federal workers - who often resent citizen watchdog groups - to "get things done," Miller said.

Established by Congress in 1971, the 19-member Advisory Commission meets four times a year to act and advise by vote on matters concerning the administration, management and development of the national park, Miller said.

The Commission can push for action, but not for money, he said.

The Secretary of the Interior appoints commissioners to unpaid, four-year terms based upon recommendations by county and state government officials, Miller added.

His commission membership stemmed from his work with the C&O Canal Association, which Miller joined 30 years ago after the outdoors enthusiast discovered "that gem that everybody kept a secret," he said.

He has advised the NPS on such issues as property use and occupancy retentions, rental and maintenance of historic canal homes, and construction of Canal Place in Cumberland, Md., but has focused his efforts on preservation of the towpath.

He said his most challenging project has been getting the NPS, which faces funding and manpower obstacles, to repair Big Slackwater. The one-mile section of the towpath below Williamsport has been washed away by flooding. It is still largely impassable.

Miller has also urged the government to repair Frederick County's Monocacy Aqueduct, a historic stone bridge being held together with trusses and steel bands, he said.

That costly project likely would have to be launched before the problem at Big Slackwater is addressed, Miller said.

"You can't do everything at once."

Miller said he will miss the fellowship shared by commission members and playing an active role in canal management.

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