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Canal Boat on Course

Friends group spearheads fund drive.

It took a canal boat a week of 18-hour work days to travel the 184 miles between Cumberland, Md. to Georgetown on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. Don Harrison and Elie Pisarra-Cain believe that a new one could be on its way from Albany, N.Y to Potomac in 13-15 weeks.

It will require a successful effort to raise between $500,000 and $600,000 said Harrison, who as president of Friends of the Historic Great Falls Tavern, hopes to help replace the Canal Clipper, the mule-drawn replica canal boat by Great Falls Tavern in C&O Canal National Historical Park that sank in April 2003.

“It’s something I’ve thought a great deal about,” said Kevin Brandt, superintendent of C&O Canal National Historical Park. “[The boat] is one of the best things we have at this park to communicate what’s special about it.”

However, there are no plans for federal appropriations toward building a new canal boat. The National Park Service met with a naval engineer in the past year to discuss possible designs for a replacement boat. Friends of the Tavern displayed designs for a replacement replica boat at Potomac Library on Jan. 24.

AS OPPOSED to the Canal Clipper, which was modeled after a cargo boat, Friends of the Tavern envision a replica “packet boat,” one designed to ferry passengers. Designs called for a steel hull that is 90 feet long, 14 feet wide with an eight-foot draft. “You would never know that it’s a steel-hulled boat,” Brandt said.

Scarano Boat Company in Albany, N.Y. can build such a boat in 13-15 weeks, Brandt said. “To them, this is a pretty standard project,” Brandt said.

Del. Bill Bronrott said on Tuesday that he intends to introduce a bond bill on Wednesday, Jan. 26 that would provide $250,000 in state funding toward the replacement canal boat. The state funds would require $75,000 in matching funding from private sources.

“What we’re trying to do is bring back the historic crown jewel of the canal,” said Bronrott, who views the boat as an important resource for education and tourism in Montgomery County.

According to Bronrott, the bond bill legislation will be co-sponsored by Del. Jean Cryor (R-15), Sen. Rob Garagiola (D-15), Del. Brian Feldman (D-15), Del. Kathleen Dumais (D-15), Sen. Brian Frosh (D-16), Del. Marilyn Goldwater (D-16) and Del. Susan Lee (D-16).

A part of its arrangement with the National Park Service, the Friends of Historic Great Falls Tavern must sign an agreement not to lobby Congress for federal funding for the project.

More than 25 people, including members from Friends of the Tavern and the C&O Canal Association, met at Potomac Library on Monday to discuss possible ways to raise funds to replace the boat.

There is already $7,500 in the canal boat treasury, held by the Montgomery County Community Foundation. Students from Seven Locks Elementary School raised more than $3,400 last spring by holding a Hike/Bike to Raise the Boat Day. More than $600 has since been donated to the fund, and Friends of the Tavern presented a matching check of $3,500 on Tuesday.

“This is kind of the kickoff meeting to get some interest going,” said Harrison. “We think it’s marvelous that kids did that. We’re going to keep it going.”