VIPs turn out to turn ground on $4 million project
By Ed Waters Jr.Frederick News-Post Staff
Originally published April 25, 2010
A groundbreaking ceremony was held Saturday for the project to restore the Catoctin Aqueduct in the C&O Canal National Historical Park. The arch at right is one of three remaining original arches.
Creating an atmosphere that set the stage for the groundbreaking for the restoration of the Catoctin Aqueduct, several trains passed by during a ceremony.
In a ceremony attended by Maryland’s governor, two U.S. senators and a congressman, ground was symbolically turned to launch the start of the nearly $4 million project.
“It was the clash of the titans,” said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, as the trains passed the site. In the 19th century, the B&O Railroad and the owners of the C&O Canal were in competition to carry passengers and goods. The canal system eventually lost out, and much of the system, from Georgetown to Cumberland, fell into disrepair.
Noting the extensive cooperation among federal, state and local governments, as well as the work of many volunteers, Gov. Martin O’Malley said the project, expected to take a year to complete, will bring jobs and boost the economy. Tourists, hikers and those interested in history will come to the aqueduct off Lander Road near Jefferson , he said.
The restoration project funds are coming from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Corman Construction of Annapolis Junction will restore the aqueduct.
Noting it is the “narrowest of the national parks in Maryland,” the governor said the C&O Canal park and trail is important not only to Maryland’s history, but also that of the nation.
“They can talk about other national parks,” Mikulski said, “but the parks in Maryland represent how America was won and built.”
She said that since the original groundbreaking for the canal by President John Quincy Adams in 1828, there was not such a group of distinguished guests on the canal parkway.
“Abigail (the president’s wife) was not there because women didn’t attend such things, we couldn’t vote, we weren’t in the Constitution. But look at the progress we have made,” Mikulski said.
She and the governor were joined by Sen. Benjamin Cardin, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, Frederick County Commissioners President Jan Gardner, Kevin Brandt, superintendent of the park; Margaret O’Dell, director of the National Capital Region, National Park Service, and George Lewis of the Catoctin Aqueduct Restoration Fund. All of the speakers praised Lewis for getting the ball rolling in 2004 to restore the aqueduct. Lewis helped form a board of directors and set up the organization.
“I want to thank George Lewis (Frederick County Forestry Board) for taking his vision into a reality,” the governor said.
Brandt said the site, during restoration and afterward, would be the perfect place to bring Frederick County schoolchildren to see history firsthand.
“We are building a bridge to somewhere,” Mikulski said, calling O’Malley “the great civil engineer building a bridge to the future.”
Cardin said the project was unusual in that there was cooperation at all levels of government, joint work with the private sector and citizen involvement through volunteers and donations. “It was so important to take politics out of this and work together.” Cardin said the state has done exceptionally well during extraordinary economic times.
“The $4 million put into this will bring us $16 million in revenue,” Cardin said. “Tourism creates jobs and helps the economy. Visitors will stay, eat in restaurants, shop. We are not just restoring the aqueduct, but our economy.”
Bartlett said the groundbreaking was one step closer to his dream of riding in a canal boat from Georgetown to Cumberland. “It will take a week because there are so many great places to stop along the way. I want to ride on that boat and I’m 84, so we need to get moving.”
Echoing other speakers’ comments on tourism, Bartlett said with the rising cost of oil, more people are doing close-in vacations and weekend trips. “And we are next to a huge metropolitan area. People want to reconnect with the past, it makes them see the future as more secure.”
The canal was built on the backs of Irish immigrants, survived the Civil War, was eroded by the elements, but will rise on the enthusiasm and sweat equity of volunteers, Lewis said.
As trains passed nearby, sometimes two at once, the speakers drove shovels into the mud along the canalway. “Today, history is in your hands,” Lewis told the audience