Students help C&O Canal park staff spruce up towpath

April 24, 2006|by TIFFANY ARNOLD

A mile-long stretch of towpath at the C&O Canal National Historical Park received a much-needed manicure Thursday, thanks to 80 sixth-graders from Western Heights Middle School.

The students, with the help of 14 parents and four teachers, pruned a portion of the towpath in the park's Big Slackwater area.

They also removed trash and debris from the parking lots and cleaned out grills.

David Tune, C&O Canal volunteer coordinator, said the middle school students have been coming to clean the towpath since 1996.

He said the annual cleanup would have taken weeks for the park staff to handle alone.

"It allows our staff to concentrate on bigger projects like mowing or preventing blowouts," Tune said.

Blowouts occur when a rush in river water causes a break in the towpath, Tune said.

Western Heights teachers said when they return to class, students will learn about the environmental effects of pollution. One year, a few students found a hot water heater along the path, said Heidi Wright, an English and science teacher at the middle school.


"At first, (the students) weren't so sure they wanted to do this," Wright said. "But at the end of they day, they really enjoy it."

Some boys with tall pole pruners worked on overhead branches, which Tuner said needed to be removed so that they didn't interfere with bikers and runners.

Tyler Mayhew's pole pruner gnawed on a thick branch for quite a while.

"I might have to use a saw," said Tyler, 11, of Hagerstown.

But he didn't need one. Minutes later, the branch fell, and he picked it up from the ground.

"Is this poison ivy?" he asked a fellow classmate.

"I don't know," the student said. "Don't touch me with it."

That morning, Tune had warned that poison ivy probably was the only danger the students faced.

"But I haven't seen any," Tune said before the students went to work.

After determining that the branch was not poisonous, Tyler dropped it into a clump of brush and started on another stubborn branch.

He said he wasn't thrilled when his teacher told him what they were going to do, but said he enjoyed clipping the trees.

It was Tyler's first time at the C&O Canal. It also was Kaya Henry's first time at the park.

Kaya, 11, of Hagerstown, was having an easier time with her shrub pruners.

"It's really fun," Kaya said as she shaped up a bush.

Kaya said she wouldn't mind going back to the C&O Canal - though without pruners.

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