Walkers in step on canal heritage

April 26, 2004|by SCOTT BUTKI

WILLIAMSPORT - As the last of about 65 walkers making the 184.5-mile trek along the C&O Canal towpath began their eighth day of walking Sunday, a group of cyclists stood nearby in the parking lot of the National Park Service Visitor Center in Williamsport.

The cyclists were members of a Boy Scout troop from Shady Grove, Pa., who were there to make a test run for a ride planned next weekend of the entire canal, from Cumberland, Md., to Georgetown in Washington, troop leader Rich Melius said.

Melius said he had not heard that people were walking the length of the towpath to commemorate the effort 50 years ago by U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas to save it from being paved over. He said he was impressed.


Bob Wilkinson of Shady Grove, also a Scout leader, said he also was impressed.

"It requires a lot of stamina to do it," Wilkinson said.

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

While Melius and Wilkinson were unaware of the event, other people the walkers have passed have known about them because of media coverage, said Barbara Sheridan, co-chair of the canal association's anniversary hike committee and one of the walkers.

People have stopped and asked if they are the ones taking part in the commemorative trek, said Sheridan, of Charles County, Md.

"It makes you feel like a celebrity," she said.

Sixty-eight hikers began the walk, but some only participated the first week, Sheridan said.

Along the walk, the most common topics of conversation are feet and feet problems, but it is the company that really makes the trip fun, walker Stacey FitzSimmons said.

"The people are crazy and wonderful and interesting," said FitzSimmons, 53, of Chevy Chase, Md.

When walkers greet each other, the first question they usually ask is whether they are having any foot problems, FitzSimmons said. Many walkers have had blisters and some participants' toenails have fallen off.

The walkers also tell racy stories and point out flowers as they walk, she said.

"The commonality is a love of the canal," FitzSimmons said.

A rainstorm Sunday morning didn't stop some of the walkers from leaving about 9 a.m., while others huddled in the Visitor Center in Williamsport until about 10 a.m.

The rain made the walk a more authentic commemoration of the original event, since there was rain when Douglas walked the canal, Sheridan said.

Larry Mills, one of the walkers who waited, said he should be used to walking in the rain since he lives in Vancouver, Wash., where they have "real rain." Mills, who said he was in his mid-60s, called Sunday's precipitation a "light mist."

Mills said he may have the distinction of traveling the farthest to participate in the hike.

Asked why he did it, he joked, "I must have been hallucinating."

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