Dallas Harrison canal community story

I learned of the C&O Canal in the 90's when I started running marathons. Several members of the group that I trained with knew the canal and surrounding area well, and scheduled weekly Saturday morning runs on the towpath. For short training runs we’d go west from mile marker 9 to 14 (Great Falls) and back. For longer runs, we’d head east from mile marker 9 to 0 (Georgetown) and back.

I became very familiar with the Locks, Lockhouses and neighborhoods along the way. I enjoyed the stunning views of the Potomac River that would suddenly appear at various points along the trail. The sight of turtles lined up neatly on a log sunbathing or of a heron taking flight never ceased to amuse or amaze me.

I also enjoyed my chance encounters with other runners, birders, bikers, walkers, hikers, campers, climbers, fishermen, picnickers and paddlers. I have met competitive, adventurous, funny, friendly and interesting people from all walks of life on the trail.

One afternoon I helped two brothers remove a section of a tree that had fallen and blocked the towpath at around mile marker 3. They told me that they were almost at the end of their annual Spring bike ride from Pittsburgh to Georgetown, via the GAP and C&O Canal trails. It was their 6th time doing it. While we worked, they shared their many experiences along the 330-mile trek.

Their stories and others I heard over the years inspired me to explore more of the canal and its adjacent towns. I retold many of the stories to my wife, Judy, and it wasn’t long before she started joining me whenever I went to the towpath. While I trained, she walked, soaked in the scenery, and snapped a countless number of photographs.

One day in January 2008, Judy and I played hooky from work to take advantage of the unusually warm weather. We picnicked at Lock 6 and, afterwards, went for a walk. Near Lock 10, Judy noticed what appeared to be a new house across the Clara Barton Parkway. She thought it looked cute and wanted to see it up close. So, I did what any good husband would have. I humored her. We drove down and up the quirky streets of Cabin John for nearly 45 minutes before we finally found the house.

It was indeed a newly constructed craftsman style house, which had recently been listed for sale. Within a few months, we purchased it and moved in. We have been living there ever since and we continue to appreciate and take advantage of the fact that this wonderful national historic park is literally an extension of our backyard.

Judy and I both recently retired, and the table has since turned. Now she has taken up running and does her marathon training on the towpath. I, on the other hand, am limited to walking and biking the trail because my knees wore out several years ago. The irony of it all. One of the special, but unfortunately rare, things we enjoy is being the first persons to set foot in freshly fallen snow along the towpath following a winter storm. It’s a quiet, peaceful and surreal experience for us. Also, because Judy believes no one is ever too old to make snow angels, she does that as well. These and numerous other experiences are why the C&O Canal has become our happy place.

With the free time I have in retirement, I started giving back more to the community. Over the years I have volunteered and supported numerous Cabin John Community Association events, including the New Neighbor Picnic, Chicken & Crab Feast, and Turkey Trot, whose route covers a portion of the towpath. In the process, I met dozens of people and learned of other volunteer opportunities.

The wonderful times that Judy and I have had on the C&O Canal compelled me to do whatever I can to help preserve it. Presently, I am a Lock 8 Steward and a Lock 10 Quartermaster. I am also a board member of Minnie’s Island Community Conservancy, where I serve as both Volunteer Coordinator and NPS Liaison. These roles and responsibilities are rewarding, and I continue to learn more about the history of the park and the broader region.

Two of our grandchildren are now old enough to join me at C&O Canal Trust or MICC sponsored volunteer events. I will soon start bringing them along. Through this exposure I hope they will discover their own passion for nature, the great outdoors and community involvement. It believe it is a gift worth sharing.


Created with images by Dallas Harrison.