Enthusiasts of the C&O Canal know there’s lots to discover along its 184-mile route from Georgetown to Cumberland, Md. Wildlife, history, engineering and outdoor sports are but a few of the attractions the canal holds for 3 million annual visitors.
Turns out there’s potential for romance along the canal as well.
Rod Sauter, the front-line ranger for C&O Canal National Historical Park at Great Falls, and his wife Marie Sauter, a natural resources management specialist at the park headquarters in Hagerstown, Md., met each other at a park function nine years ago.
For a pair of hiking enthusiasts, the canal and its surrounding terrain along the Potomac River provided the perfect backdrop to meet and grow to know each other.
“The resources at the park are so incredible. … I was able to share them with Marie,” Rod said.
“We share a lot of mutual ideas of all facets of life,” Marie said.
THEIR PATHS first crossed in 1997 during a scenic train ride from Cumberland, Md., to Sharpsburg, Md., that was arranged for park employees by former Park Superintendent Doug Faris.
In actuality, they didn’t get on track during the train ride, but rather when Rod drove the shuttle van to and from the train depot. “I was with one of my girlfriends — we were doing one of the usual girls gabbing things,” Marie said.
But she’d noticed the man who drove the van. “I decided I was very interested in Rod,” she said, “maybe because he was really respectful and really polite.”
She went to Great Falls and left Sauter a note, asking him to call if he wanted to go to Shepherdstown, W.Va. Two days later, he did.
Their first date was in Shepherdstown, dinner and then a movie at the old Opera House.
Months later, on a fall day, Rod and Marie went for a hike together. Marie later realized that there was an Orioles playoff game going on at that time, and Rod, who grew up in Howard County and was a lifelong Orioles fan, had opted for a hike. “He sacrificed an Orioles playoff game,” Marie said. “That’s when I realized that he was interested.”
On a cold and windy Christmas Eve afternoon in 1998, Rod and Marie took a hike to Maryland Heights, a portion of the Blue Ridge Mountains beside the junction of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. Rod originally planned on proposing during the hike, but the elements were not cooperating. “I was afraid I would lose [the ring] in the rain,” he said.
Instead, while Rod was washing dishes after dinner that evening, he dropped to one knee and proposed. “How could I not say yes?” she said.
In 2000, they were married at the Hilltop House in Harpers Ferry, W.Va. They went to the mountains of Northern Georgia for their honeymoon.
THE SAUTERS live in Bolivar, W.Va., near Harpers Ferry — Mile 60 of the C&O Canal is just across a nearby bridge. Marie, now 45, continues to work in the park headquarters, now in Hagerstown, Md. Rod, now 38, still works at Great Falls. “Every day we walk out there and feel thankful that we live here,” he said.
Among Park Service personnel, the Sauters aren’t an isolated incident. Marie has been in two weddings for couples that met working for the National Park Service. “It seems to be a Service-wide phenomenon,” she said.