When Kathleen Kelly leads a team of mules up the C&O canal towpath, the mules pause as they pass the Canal Clipper, the replica canal boat they used to pull. In April 2003, the Clipper was retired after damage to its hull rendered it inoperable, bringing an end to 30 years when it ferried 18,000 annual visitors in the canal above Great Falls Tavern.
Last week, a group of Wayside Elementary fifth-graders in Girl Scout Troop 4741 donated $400 to help replace the canal boat by Great Falls Tavern. The scouts presented their check to Don Harrison, president of Friends of the Historic Great Falls Tavern, aboard the Canal Clipper on Wednesday, June 8.
FRIENDS OF THE TAVERN has raised more than half of the $600,000 needed to replace the boat. Most of the money came from Maryland’s legislature, which this spring appropriated a $200,000 history and heritage grant for a new boat.
Park personnel met last year with an Albany, N.Y.-based builder to discuss potential boat designs, but Potomac resident Jo Reynolds said it is now more likely that a Maryland company will construct the boat — three in-state builders have bid on the project.
Unlike the Canal Clipper, which was modeled after a cargo boat, the new boat will replicate a packet boat, which ferried passengers on day trips between Georgetown and Great Falls during the canal’s heyday.
The Canal Clipper now sits atop stationary blocks in the canal by the tavern, but it is once again accessible to visitors as a living history exhibit. On weekends, volunteers in period costume board the boat and answer questions from visitors.
Reynolds said that Friends of the Tavern will ask major donors to help provide the remaining amount necessary to build the new canal boat. She hopes the project can be completed as early as next spring.
In the meantime, individual donors have helped. Harrison said that one park visitor passed the Canal Clipper, took a pamphlet and donated $25,000. A local photographer donates proceeds from some of his photographs to the boat fund.