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The renewal of official interest in the proposed parkway along the old C and O Canal between Great Falls and Cumberland will stir the enthusiasm of many Washingtonians...By utilizing the old canal--no longer either a commercial or a scenic asset--it is estimated that the parkway could be built for $100,000 a mile. The lovely Potomac Valley could thus be made available to sightseers, campers, fishermen, and hikers with little distraction from its beauty...
Fishermen, hunters, hikers, campers, ornithologists and others who like to get acquainted with nature first-hand and on their own are opposed to making a highway out of this sanctuary.
...In the early twenties, Justice Brandeis traveled the canal and river by canoe to Cumberland. It was for him exciting adventure and recreation... It is a refuge, a place of retreat, a long stretch of quiet and peace at the Capitol's back door--a wilderness area where man can be alone with his thoughts., a sanctuary where he can commune with God and nature, a place not yet marred by the roar of wheels and the sound of horns.
It is a place for boys and girls, men and women. One can hike fifteen or twenty miles on a Sunday afternoon, or sleep on high dry ground in the quiet of a forest, or just go and sit with no sound except for water lapping at one's feet.
I wish the man who wrote that editorial...would take time off and come with me. We would go with packs on our backs and hike the 185 miles to Cumberland. I feel that if your editor did, he would return a new man and use the power of your great editorial page to help keep this sanctuary untouched.
One who walked the canal its full length could plead its cause with the elegance of a John Muir. He would get to know muskrats, badgers, and fox; he would hear the roar of wind in thickets; he would see strange islands and promontories through the fantasy of fog; he would discover the glory there is in the first flower of spring, the glory there is even in a blade of grass; the whistling wings of ducks would make silence have new values for him. Certain it is that he could never acquire that understanding going 60 or even 25 miles an hour.
We should not want it to be supposed that we are insensitive to the call of a warbler, the blush of buds in late winter, the crunch of autumn leaves under hiking boots, or the drip of water from canoe paddles...
We are pleased to accept Justice Douglas's invitation to walk the towpath...He has only to name the time and the starting point of the journey and to prescribe the equipment to be taken along.
Along the C. & O. Canal--One thing is certain as the Justice Douglas--Washington Post and Times-Herald hike wends its way down the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal towpath: The full potential of the beautiful Potomac Valley is far from being realized at the present time. While the trek down the Canal is still in its early stages, everyone is in agreement on this point. It follows that there is a general belief that the National Park Service should preserve the scenic and recreational values to be found here, and develop its C. & O. property for more extensive public use.
Just what this development should consist of is still controversial. Many people in Cumberland and surrounding territory favor construction of the parkway recommended by the National Park Service. It was our support of this position that brought a challenge from Justice Douglas and led to the undertaking fo this jaunt on foot from Cumberland to Washington. Many of the conservationists, nature lovers and outdoor men who are making the trip agree with the Justice that the proposed parkway should not be built. But they are eager to see improved access roads and new recreational centers built in the area. They want the old canal restored and the charm of the Potomac Valley opened to a larger group of citizens.
It is not impossible that these viewpoints can be reconciled. That remains to be seen, and we are not at this early point on the journey trying to draw final conclusions. We are, however, impressed by the general demand for better use of this natural playground and the obvious eagerness of many people to get away from the pressure, tensions and exactions of city life. Out here the first signs of spring seem far more important than the antics of self-inflated wild men or what Congress does with the tax bill. Our interest centers on the call of birds, the quiet flow of the river, the chatter of carefree men and the mountains of food daily consumed.
It is good to renew one's contacts with nature. At this point we are torn between a feeling of appreciation to Justice Douglas for luring us into this venture and irritation over the increasingly pathetic condition of our feet. But blisters heel and memories linger. The one conclusion of which we seem capable at this time is that experience on the trail is an excellent leavening influence to which even editors occasionally should be subjected.
It is time for an accounting to our readers....Some 180 miles (most of it on foot) and numerous blisters and strained tendons later, we retain the conviction that the valley ought to be opened up. We believe, however, that a compromise is possible which will preserve large areas in their natural state and still make possible a parkway along some beautiful parts of the valley.
In one important respect we have changed our minds. The 1950 plan...called for a parkway along the towpath, and in some places along the bed, of the old Chesapeake & Ohio Canal. Apart from the desirability of leaving some areas in their natural state, this would eb a much bigger undertaking than we had supposed....
Many semi-wilderness stretches along the old canal ought not to be disturbed... It would be a shame, say, to invade the glen above Cresaptown, where the old drill marks are still visible; the magnificent 3,000 foot tunnel near Paw Paw, which remains a monument to the architectural and engineering genius of 110 years ago; the Roundtop Mountain area above Hancock; the stretch along the Catoctins above Point of Rocks; and of course the restored canal between Seneca and Washington which ought to be left untouched..