Volunteer spruce up canal's Cushwa Basin

  • Emma and Carl Christensen, of Lovettsville, Va., were among about 60 volunteers Saturday who worked to spruce up the Cushwa Basin area of the C&O Canal during Williamsport Canal Pride Day. The Christensens enjoyed an earlier bike ride along the C&O Canal so much that they wanted to help beautify the C&O Canal National Historical Park.
By Colleen McGrath, Staff Photographer

WILLIAMSPORT -- Kenny Clopper remembers seeing Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas walk the towpath along the C&O Canal near his family's Clear Spring farm in the 1950s.

The canal had been used as a trade route in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. After severe flood damage in 1924, it never reopened. Douglas was instrumental in halting a proposal to turn the canal into a paved road and led an effort to establish the 185-mile-long canal area between Cumberland, Md., and Washington D.C., as a national park.

As a boy, Clopper, now 68, was impressed by Douglas' passion for the canal and his vigorous effort to preserve it. The canal finally won national park status in 1971.

"I seen this canal when it was nothing. It was left go since 1924," Clopper said. "Seeing Justice Douglas walk past our farm near Dam No. 5 kind of made an impression on me."


Today, Clopper serves as a caretaker, known as a quartermaster, for Lockhouse 49, one of the residences of the men and their families who operated the lock gates along the canal when it was in service.

Saturday morning, Clopper and about 60 other volunteers worked to spruce up the Cushwa Basin area at Williamsport Canal Pride Day.

"I'm proud to be here, proud to serve," Clopper said while he painted the railing along the Conococheague Aqueduct.

Jenna Warrenfeltz, development and communications manager for the C&O Canal Trust, said Canal Pride Days is a joint effort between the C&O Canal National Historical Park and the trust. This was the third year of Canal Pride Days at various sites along the route, and the second in Williamsport.

"We are hoping to bring (Canal Pride Day) to Williamsport every year, as this is a very popular area," Warrenfeltz said. "It's meant to engage the community, to bring people to the park and let them get their hands dirty, and to help clean up the visitors' areas before summer."

Hikers, joggers and bicyclists frequent the towpath, or trail, along the canal, while fishing, boating and kayaking enthusiasts take to the water.

In addition to painting the aqueduct railing, volunteers removed debris from beneath the Bollman Iron Truss Bridge and planted native trees along the towpath near the Allegheny Power plant.

Geordie Newman, park volunteer coordinator, said the energy company provided 60 trees to create a native screen between its plant and the trail.

Michelle Carter, park biologist, led volunteers in pulling about 25 large bags full of invasive garlic mustard plants from the wooded area along the path.

"(The plant) is not indigenous to the area. It grows taller and faster than desirable native plants and outcompetes them," Carter said. "But our volunteers are kicking butt."

Among those pulling the plants from an embankment were Debbie Rodgers, 33, and her daughter, Madison, 8, of Gaithersburg, Md. Rodgers said her family visits the park to "get away from the hustle and bustle of the city."

"I like it out west. It's pretty, and we can relax," Debbie Rodgers said. "I figure we come here to hang out, we might as well help where we like to come."

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