Let’s Build Our Own C&O Canal Barge

Arlette Cohen-Coppock and her husband Robert with the doomed barge, The Georgetown, in background. | Robert Devaney

If we build it, they will come. Georgetown’s long-serving C&O Canal barge, The Georgetown, is heading for demolition upstream to be replaced by a smaller motorized launch boat that will hold fewer passengers — 12 as opposed to about 70.

For many, the barge’s departure will take away some of the historic aspects of the C&O Canal here in town. The barge, pulled by mules we knew by name, held more students and tourists who learned of life along the canal in days of yore, when the canal contributed to the local economy. Barges was used by workers for everyday tasks. The canal itself was an engineering masterpiece.

The budget of the National Park Service which oversees the C&O Canal National Park does not include enough money to purchase a new or re-built barge we are so used to seeing along the waterway. It is estimated that a proper replacement barge’s price tag would exceed $600,000.

Friends of the canal and of the barge gathered last month near Lock 4 to mourn the canal boat’s passing. The barge sits on the platform there, awaiting its demise. To mark the occasion and decked out in black were Arlette Cohen-Coppock, who runs the hair salon, the Fourth Lock, and her husband Robert. They hosted a farewell party, where well-wishers recalled their favorite canal stories and wondered aloud how they could save or re-built the barge. They want a barge that speaks to a picture-perfect past, even if it were not so.

It is too late for The Georgetown, but not for those who love such a barge and the C&O Canal. It is time for a private effort. It is up to Georgetowners, Washingtonians and others to step up and organize a fundraising and construction program. This is an affluent area; this is an area filled with shipbuilding expertise.

A new, historically accurate barge would re-imagine life along the canal again and contribute to the local economy once again. The C&O Canal is Georgetown’s unique attraction. We neglect it at our peril.

Yes, there are many more pressing concerns that cry out for money to help. And that’s all well and good. There are plenty of folks who contribute to all sorts of charities, our bad economy notwithstanding. It is their choice.

Let someone choose this effort. Who, in this era of social media fundraising and crowdsourcing, will step up to lead this campaign? Who will show how the love of history contributes to the future? Who will organize the construction of a new barge not only to make history right but to strengthen a neighborhood and its economy? This can be done. Let us know. ?

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