Recalling the origins of Georgetown Heritage, Jennifer Romm, chair of the organization’s board, said: “The canal boat is how we started this whole thing.”
Romm was speaking to several dozen attendees at a Sept. 12 ribbon cutting for two newly restored locks, numbers 3 and 4, on the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, just south of M Street between 30th and Thomas Jefferson Streets in Georgetown. The Georgetown, a replica canal boat that took tourists on mule-powered rides, stopped operating in 2011 and was rotting away. Before a new boat could be put into service, work had to be done on the canal.
With support from the community and the Georgetown Business Improvement District, a new nonprofit was formed. Georgetown Heritage became the National Park Service’s partner in restoring and enlivening the Georgetown stretch of C&O Canal National Historic Park. Romm said that revised design plans would be shared soon and a new boat, paid for with a grant from the District, is expected next August.
After remarks by Andrew Trueblood, director of D.C.’s Office of Planning, Romm introduced the new executive director of Georgetown Heritage, Jeffrey Nichols, former president and CEO of Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest, outside Lynchburg, Virginia. “I think we won the lottery,” she said.
Nichols commented that he had come to realize how important Kevin Brandt, the park’s superintendent, had been to the project. Brandt will retire at the end of September after 23 years. On the job for a bit over a week, Nichols said, “Like canal ships in the night we pass,” since Brandt is moving to Lynchburg.
Though Brandt credited Joe Reed, the Park Service civil engineer who supervised the restoration of the locks — “Every stone was numbered” — he said that the project wasn’t just about infrastructure. Every D.C. third-grader will have a hands-on experience on the new canal boat thanks to a planned Georgetown Heritage program, thus becoming “future stewards” not only of the park but of other Park Service sites.
With that, the representatives of the partner organizations cut the ribbon, a wicket on Lock 3 was opened and some Potomac River water gushed east. The remaining crowd chatted, munched on pizza from Il Canale and cookies from Baked & Wired and sought relief from the unseasonably hot afternoon. No children, unfortunately, had shown up to take advantage of the coloring tent.