C&O Canal pulled history buff onto new career path

Internship put Daniel 'Dan' Filer in uniform

February 21, 2012|By JANET HEIM |
  • Judy Niedzielski left, a volunteer at the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal's Williamsport Visitors Center, talks with Daniel "Dan" Filer, a park ranger/volunteer program manager at the canal's headquarters in Hagerstown.
By Joe Crocetta, Staff Photographer

For Daniel “Dan” Filer, it all started with an internship at the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park’s Cumberland Visitors Center while he was a college student at Frostburg State University.

Filer, 29, who grew up and lives in Frostburg, worked at the visitors center the fall of 2004. A paid seasonal job opened up, and Filer worked four summers there.

He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in history, then a master’s degree in education and a master’s in business administration, all from Frostburg State. He is still working on a doctorate degree in educational leadership from West Virginia University and has been an adjunct professor of history at Allegany College of Maryland in Cumberland.

“The doctoral thing is a personal goal. My personal hero is Indiana Jones. That’s what I wanted to be — a Ph.D. in history,” Filer said.

In December 2007, after Filer had his master’s degree in education and was one class shy of his master’s in business administration, he started working as park ranger/volunteer program manager at the canal’s headquarters in Hagerstown.


“I never though I’d be working with the National Park Service,” Filer said.

He envisioned himself as a teacher or going on to law school, but finds his skills in education serve him well working with volunteers and staff members.

“What I enjoy is the opportunity to work with the National Park volunteers who want to do it, are motivated. I’m working with people every day who are passionate about what they do,” Filer said.

There are 3,500 volunteers with the C&O Canal, all 184.5 miles of it from Cumberland to Georgetown.

During the last fiscal year — from Oct. 1, 2010 to Sept. 30, 2011 — 90,000 volunteer hours were logged for the entire park, Filer said.

Volunteers range from those seeking physical labor, like mulching for a day, to those who commit long term in the visitors centers, answering phones at headquarters or on the bike patrol, to the volunteer who creates a website.

“Volunteerism is critical here. Our job is to educate people on the resources of the park to appreciate it.

Our job is to get people to appreciate it by taking ownership of it,” Filer said.

Filer said the park rangers who have more of the day-to-day contact with the volunteers than he does.

“My role is to be an advocate for the volunteer program. I do the recruitment, training and focus on education,” Filer said.

Volunteer events are planned throughout the year, including April 21 at Great Falls, and a trail reconstruction project on April 28 at Big Slackwater in Washington County with funding from President Obama’s stimulus package.

Filer said 80 percent of the volunteers make their initial contact through the Hagerstown headquarters and the Williamsport Visitors Center. The website and social networks also draw volunteers.

Parkwide, the push is to get volunteers signed up with the Canal Steward Program, through which volunteers commit to maintaining specific areas within the park. The program is being tested in the Great Falls area, but isn’t available in Washington County yet, Filer said.

More information can be found at or be calling Filer at 301-714-2218. 

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