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Following Douglas' footsteps

Hikers traversing entire length of C&O Canal

Hikers traversing entire length of C&O Canal

April 24, 2004|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Jack Stickles rested at a picnic table at McCoys Ferry on Friday with a Miller Lite in hand.

The 76-year-old hiker said he was tired, but the three epidurals he received in his back before his 184.5-mile trek from Cumberland, Md., to Georgetown in Washington, D.C., had held up so far.

Stickles, of Chevy Chase, Md., is one of 68 members of the C&O Canal Association walking the canal in honor of U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas' efforts 50 years ago to save it from being paved and turned into a highway.

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In response to a Washington Post editorial supporting the highway, Douglas organized a March 1954 hike with the paper's editors so they could witness its natural beauty for themselves, according to the National Park Service.

After seeing its history, wildlife and recreational opportunities, the editors changed their position and supported the canal's preservation, according to the park service.

The C&O Canal Association began the 50th Anniversary Douglas Hike in Cumberland on April 18 and will finish in Georgetown on May 1.

Christine Cerniglia, president of the C&O Canal Association, said the group is dedicated to preserving and promoting the canal and goes on the trek every five years.

The hikers made it to Hancock on Thursday afternoon, where they slept for the night, then began walking again about 8 a.m. Friday, the sixth day of the two-week hike.

Nearly 14 miles and some seven hours later, they began arriving at McCoys Ferry, near Big Pool, where they were to camp out Friday night. They planned to leave for their 11-mile hike to Williamsport this morning.

Stickles, diagnosed with sciatica, said he received the steroid injections to keep prevent back pain during the trip.

"It's working just fine right now ... knock on wood," Stickles said. "I don't know of anybody who's dropped out yet."

Stickles, who has gone on the hike two other times, said blisters form on the walkers' feet during the first few days, but then they begin to harden and become less painful as the miles go on.

When the hikers reach the end, he said they feel a sense of accomplishment.

"You feel great. You've accomplished something," Stickles said.

Hiker Don Juran, of Rockville, Md., said the hike not only is a healthy way to spend a two-week vacation, but is a good way to emphasize the importance of the canal.

"It's a mission we have to publicize the beauty and importance of the canal - to help protect it from neglect and from encroachment by commercial and other interests," Juran said.

Juran said he and his fellow hikers stop along the way for water, food and rest.

"You got to rest the burning feet," Juran said. "I could walk 15 miles without stopping if I don't have to walk the next day."

The C&O Canal, which runs parallel to the Potomac River, was a transportation route from 1828 to 1924, mainly in which coal was hauled from Western Maryland to Washington, according to the National Park Service.

Mules pulled boats along the canal while walking on the towpath beside it, according to the C&O Canal Association's Web site.

The canal stopped being used for commercial transportation in the early 20th century, when trains became a more efficient form of transportation, the site states.

The towpath remains in use for hiking, biking and other recreational activities.

"It's very pleasant, very peaceful," Stickles said. "It's a great asset to Maryland because it keeps the Maryland side of the river free from development."

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