Many accounts of hike didn't agree

March 14, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

Just like the pro-parkway and the pro-nature factions, many of the news accounts and other reports of the historic 1954 C&O Canal hike didn't agree.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas hiked the canal to show others that it should be preserved, not turned into a parkway. Two Washington Post editors who supported the parkway were part of the group that walked with him.

The group left Cumberland, Md., with 58 people, according to a National Park Service history.

No, almost 40 people were there, reporter George Kennedy wrote for the Washington Star.

"By starting time, they numbered 37 in all," Time magazine printed.

"Thirty-Four Men Start March On Washington," a Cumberland Evening Times headline declared.

"Over two dozen hikers determined to see for themselves what the controversy was all about," Jack Durham, who arranged the hike on behalf of The Wilderness Society, wrote in his report.


A report by W. Drew Chick Jr., the chief park naturalist for the Park Service's National Capital Parks division, played it safe. "Fewer than had been anticipated," he wrote.

A few accounts said the canal was 184, 185 or 187 miles long; most described it as 189. The C&O Canal is 184.5 miles, according to the National Park Service.

The hikers departed from a point either six, seven or 10 miles ahead on the towpath instead of from the Cumberland endpoint. Kennedy's story said there were too many fences across the towpath to climb in that early stretch, but another story quoted a U.S. Park Police corporal as saying the terminus area was too industrial.

There even was doubt after the fact about what day the hikers stepped off.

Chick's report said March 20; Durham's report said March 19.

However, tucked into a National Park Service archive file is a precise 1984 memo from military geologist William E. Davies to the C&O Canal National Historical Park's superintendent.

"The Justice Douglas hike started at Lock 72 on Saturday, 20 March 1954 at 8:24 A.M.," wrote Davies, who was on the hike.

"Shows that diaries sometimes contain useful data," he concluded.

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