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Hikers assemble along C&O Canal

April 19, 2004|By WANDA T. WILLIAMS

wandaw@herald.mail.com

CUMBERLAND, MD. - Equipped with backpacks, walking sticks and other gear, hikers from around the country gathered in Cumberland on Sunday for an 185-mile hike to celebrate the preservation of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park.

"We've got hikers coming in from Vancouver, Washington, La Jolla, Calif., and Durango, Colo.," said Barbara Sheridan, a board member with the C&O Canal Association.

The Canal Association, a nonprofit preservation group, is co-sponsoring this year's hike commemorating the 50th anniversary of U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas' walk to draw attention to efforts to save the canal. The 14-day hike covers the length of the canal from Allegany County in Maryland to Washington's Georgetown area.

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Commemorative hikes are held every five years in conjunction with the National Park Service. Shorter hikes are sponsored twice a year, information officer Micky Reed said.

Williamsport Pastor Thomas Perry, 68, packed up his gear and headed out Saturday morning. In 1999, he trekked the whole distance, but this year he planned to hike only halfway. He said he was walking with his 58-year-old brother, Robert C. Perry, who planned to hike the full distance.

Perry is 5 feet 9 inches tall with a medium build and weighs 178 pounds. He said he's in good health.

"My knees are in good condition and I've been exercising following neurosurgery on my back."

But he still has one worry ? his feet.

Perry, who is slightly flat-footed, said he purchased a new pair of shoes with special inserts made by a local foot doctor.

"They will put an arch in my foot, making it less prone to wear and tear," he said. "I'll know if it works after the first day or two."

The 68 registered hikers included several older than 50. For them, "age is nothing but a number," Reed said.

"I did it five years ago," said Reed, 73, of Bethesda, Md.

She and her husband, John Reed, who just turned 75, have been preparing for weeks.

"We started out with eight-mile hikes, then 12 miles, and after that we got in a 14-mile hike," she said.

Dating to the 1800s, the C&O Canal was part of George Washington's dream to transport raw and finished materials across the country, said Bill Justice, a lead program coordinator with the National Park Service's Hagerstown office. In 1924, the canal was forced to close, giving way to railroad transportation, he said.

Thirty years later, Justice Douglas spearheaded a hike along the canal to draw attention to its scenic beauty. Douglas was successful in halting plans to convert the historic canal to a paved roadway.

Today, the C&O Canal is one of the park service's busiest locations, attracting 3 million visitors annually, Justice said.

Special events surrounding the 50th anniversary started Saturday night in Cumberland with an opening banquet. About 100 citizens, politicians and onlookers turned out Sunday morning for a brief ceremony before hikers set out from the C&O Canal Visitors Center in Cumberland as bagpipes played in the background.

A second banquet will be held at the hike's midway point in Williamsport on Sunday at the American Legion Post.

A closing banquet will be held at the Pier Seven restaurant in Georgetown on May 1 when the hike ends.

Both banquets are sold out.

Averaging 11 to 15 miles a day, hikers will start about 8:30 a.m. and wind down about 6 p.m. The public can join the group for daily hikes.

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