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C&O Canal volunteer bike patrol is help on wheels

June 22, 2004|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

WILLIAMSPORT - Start with a love of bicycling, exercise and nature, add an appetite for history in general - and the C&O Canal in particular - and one has a perfect candidate for the volunteer bike patrol that cruises the 184.5-mile towpath all year.

The core of volunteers that rides out of the C&O Canal's Williamsport Visitor Center includes between 30 to 40 bikers who come from all walks of life, according to Park Ranger Gloria Updike.

Donald Goodwin has been with the Williamsport-based patrol since 1999, getting involved after reading a newspaper item about efforts to form a bike patrol.

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"I love the park and I enjoy bike riding," Goodwin said.

A resident of Frederick, Md., Goodwin is a field auditor with the Maryland Comptroller's Office. "I'm on the canal a lot anyway so the patrol's a perfect fit for me."

A newcomer to the patrol last fall, Steve Hatleberg was attending C&O Canal Days in Williamsport in August when he spotted a table staffed by volunteers. "They mentioned the bike patrol and the more they told me, the better it sounded," he said.

Hatleberg filled out his application, took the training, submitted to the background check and made a trial bike ride before being approved as a patrol member.

A physician with a busy practice at Robinwood Internal Medicine, Hatleberg had just moved to Hagerstown from Carlisle, Pa., when he learned of the bike patrol. Married with three grown children, he said he rides the canal whenever he can.

"I've had all three of my children on family bike rides on the canal before," Hatleberg said.

Bike patrol members need not maintain a schedule of time spent on the canal nor are they assigned hours to patrol, Updike said. There are some special events and holiday weekends when the volunteers are encouraged to patrol the canal because of the large number of people using the park.

"There are also bike patrols operating out of Cumberland and Hancock and another group in the Georgetown area," Updike said. "This is a very cohesive group here in Williamsport."

At a minimum, bike patrol members are asked to commit to 40 hours a year.

The rest of the time, bike patrol members perform their duties while on the canal for their own recreation. The difference is they wear bright red vests identifying themselves as bike patrol members.

"We carry water, first-aid material, a bike repair kit, walkie-talkies and a book with information about the canal in our backpacks," Goodwin said.

Most use their own bikes and helmets but the canal office has bikes available to patrol members.

Over the past five years, Goodwin said he has had to respond to emergencies in only a few instances. But there have been a few minor calls such as the one on the weekend of May 16, when he helped a Girl Scout repair a flat tire.

"They called me a heaven-sent angel ... no one has ever called me that before," said Goodwin, referring to the Scout and the leader who was with her.

The rangers also are key to Goodwin's enjoyment of his patrol duties. "They appreciate what we do," he said.

Updike said the park service is pleased with the way the patrol works and is received by those who encounter the volunteers.

"They are a friendly presence on the canal," she said.

For more information on the volunteer bike patrol, call 301-582-0813.

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