Dolly, 14, and her best friend Eva, 13, were having lunch together in Georgetown last Saturday, July 28. Everything was going well until Eva started chomping the leaves on a tree branch overhead.
Her behavior was not entirely unexpected, since she and Dolly are mules, the handsome but sterile equines that are the offspring of jacks (male donkeys) and mares (female horses). For years, the two pulled the Georgetown, the replica canal boat that tourists rode along the Georgetown section of Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park.
Dolly and Eva had made the trip from Great Falls, Virginia, in a horse trailer as the guests of honor at a “Meet the Mules” event in Fish Market Square — at Potomac and Grace Streets — organized by the National Park Service and Georgetown Heritage. Maggie Downing, director of public programs and partnerships for Georgetown Heritage, was on hand to chat with passersby.
The nonprofit Georgetown Heritage, a spinoff of the Georgetown Business Improvement District, will be contracting for a new canal boat, using part of a $3-million grant from the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, matched with private funds.
Reimagining the one-mile section of the C&O Canal that runs through Georgetown and making it “safer, more accessible, activated through programming and interpretation, and better maintained” is among the goals of the Georgetown 2028 planning process. Locks 3 and 4 are currently being rebuilt by the Park Service.
When the new boat goes into service, possibly as soon as next spring, Dolly and Eva will be back in the harness, along with at least two additional mules. “They’re getting harder to find,” said Park Ranger Mark Myers, who is, in effect, the chief muleteer. Fortunately, mules can live as long as 35 or 40 years.
Myers has been working at the park since 1994. Park Ranger Carl Lennartson, whose “boat name” is Honest Tom, has been at it since 1991. Lennartson recalled that, as the mule-powered boat plied the canal at about three miles an hour, he and the passengers would sometimes note that they were going faster than the adjacent automobile traffic.
Other rangers gave out NPS literature and Junior Ranger activity books. Also helping Dolly and Eva greet their fans — including one little girl who was also named Eva — were volunteers Gail Hoelscher and Erin Teigen.