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Canal Boat Gets $50,000 Lift

C&O Canal Association aids effort to replace replica boat at Great Falls Tavern.

For the third straight year, spring will arrive at Great Falls Tavern without a mule-drawn canal boat ferrying visitors at C&O Canal National Historical Park. Once a draw to more than 18,000 visitors each year, the Canal Clipper sits high and dry just below the tavern, its resting spot after hull damage rendered it inoperable in April 2003.

Friends of the Historic Great Falls Tavern and the C&O Canal Association are among the area organizations looking to replace the Canal Clipper with a replica packet boat. With no federal funding designated to replace the boat, Friends of the Tavern is looking for other ways to raise the funds needed for a replacement, estimated between $500,000 and $600,000.

Carl Linden of the C&O Canal Association presented a $50,000 grant to Don Harrison, president of Friends of the Historic Great Falls Tavern, and Elie Pisarra-Cain, past president of Friends of the Tavern, at the C&O Canal Association’s annual meeting on March 5. The C&O Canal Association had money left over from a project to restore the towpath along Widewater, a natural widening in the canal below Great Falls Tavern. The project received federal funding in the last fiscal year, enabling the C&O Canal Association to contribute to the effort to restore the boat, said Harrison.

“The association is very happy to make the grant, because [Friends of the Tavern] are old friends, and we think the canal boat is pretty important, especially for school children,” said Linden. “They get a kick out of it, and they were the first ones to begin the effort.” Students from Seven Locks Elementary School began fundraising last spring to help replace the boat.

“That donation is a real boost to our efforts,” said Harrison.

Del. Bill Bronrott introduced HB311 to Maryland’s General Assembly in January, bond bill legislation which would provide $250,000 in state funding to match $75,000 raised by private contributions. State senators Brian Frosh (D-16) and Rob Garagiola (D-15) co-sponsored SB749, the same bond legislation for the canal boat, in the Maryland Senate. The bill is one of more than 170 bond bills pending in the Maryland legislature.

With the C&O Canal Association’s grant, the Canal Boat Fund now tops $60,000. The Seven Locks students raised $3,400 last spring, and Friends of the Tavern contributed a matching grant of $3,500 in January. Harrison said that other private donors have contributed just over $3,000. “It shows different kids of support, and shows that we have a nice, broad base there,” said Pisarra-Cain.

The National Park Service showed plans for a replacement canal boat at a Friends of the Tavern meeting in January calling for a 90-foot replica of a packet boat, designed to carry passengers instead of cargo in the canal’s operational days. C&O Canal Park Superintendent Kevin Brandt met with Scarano Boat Company in Albany, N.Y. last year to see its designs for a replacement boat.

Brandt described it as a “pretty standard project” for Scarano, but Harrison said other companies will be consulted also.

“We’ll go to other companies [and ask] ‘What will it cost to build this boat?’” said Harrison.

Friends of the Tavern will also seek corporate donations, Harrison said.