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Fourth-graders cut ribbon on C&O Canal TRACK Trail

April 26, 2013|By DAN DEARTH | dan.dearth@herald-mail.com
  • National Park Service district ranger, Curt Gaul, leads a group of Williamsport Elementary School students on a hike on C&O Canal Friday. Officials opened the first Track Trail with a ceremony at the canal.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

Williamsport Elementary School fourth-graders helped National Park Service officials open two new educational trails Friday morning at the C&O Canal National Historical Park in Williamsport.

Park Superintendent Kevin Brandt was among a handful of officials to welcome the fourth-graders, who were tagged at the ceremony as the future stewards of the National Park Service.

“You guys are our future, and we’re glad that you’re here,” Brandt said.

The two new trails are part of the National Park Service’s TRACK Trails program, which promotes self-guided tours in an effort to encourage children and their families to explore the outdoors.

On Friday, the fourth-graders helped cut the ribbon to open the trails, then divided into four groups and went on a hike. The children were given brochures that pointed out educational items along the trails, such as different types of trees and structures of historical significance.

Brandt said each of the trails is about a mile in length.

“It’s designed to get the kids out and exploring in a safe and fun manner,” he said as the children were hiking the trails. “This is really designed to be a threshold experience ... We hope it inspires kids to want to come back and discover nature.”

He said every fourth-grader who attends Washington County Public Schools visits the C&O park at Williamsport as part of their Maryland history studies. The students are taught a variety of topics during their visits, he said, including the area’s role in the Civil War and, when in 1790, George Washington considered making Williamsport the capital of the United States.

That idea was rejected because large ships couldn’t navigate the Potomac River this far west.

“The C&O Canal has seen a real parade of history,” Brandt said.

Officials at the event also said the TRACK Trails program promotes fitness through physical activity.

Williamsport fourth-graders Alyssa Eddington, Luke Rourke and Andrew Kelbaugh said they regularly walk the C&O Canal with their families and were eager to get started on the nature hikes that were part of Friday’s event.

“I want to see all the natural features,” Alyssa said.

Brandt said the C&O Canal, which stretches 184.5 miles from Georgetown to Cumberland, Md., received 4.7 million visitors last year, making it the 11th most-visited national park in the United States.

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