The C&O Canal is a place to catch one’s breath, to relax and meditate, enjoy nature, the changing of the seasons, the flora and birds. This Canal is a mecca for those who love to walk, run, bike, hike, bird watch, fish, kayak, photograph, canoe and more. It is Potomac’s playground located in its own backyard.
Potomac residents go daily, weekly or just once in awhile but it is estimated that the C&O Canal Park is the most visited U.S. national park — and that over 5 million visitors come every year.
The National C&O Canal Park access is made possible by the dedication of members of the Canal Trust and the C&O Canal Association, the volunteers who give their time and energy, and the organizations and individuals who donate funds to support the many projects which are needed to keep the canal beautiful, safe and usable. Two will be honored at the Sept. 16, “Park After Dark” event which will be held from 6-10 p.m. inside the Park at the Historic Tavern.
The William O. Douglas Stewardship Award will be presented to the Bernstein Family Foundation in honor of their enduring commitment to the C&O Canal. The Canal Pride Award for Volunteer Service will be presented to C&O Canal Trust volunteer Jim Heins.
Potomac resident Ami Aronson will be accepting the William O. Douglas award on behalf of the Bernstein Family Foundation. “I am so proud that the Bernstein Foundation was selected for this honor,” she said. “The Bernstein family are 6th generation Washingtonians and I have lived in Potomac for more than 16 years. My family and I use the canal on an almost-daily basis. I run all the trails, my son loves to fish there and we all enjoy that it provides us with a place that is safe and restores the human spirit in these troubled times. My grandfather Leo, who founded our family foundation, loved history. He would have been particularly pleased that the award we received is named after Supreme Court Judge Douglas, who virtually saved the canal for all of us. Just think what it would have been like if it were a super-highway. We are happy to carry on our grandfather’s legacy and to give back to this special park.”
Volunteer of the Year Jim Heins has an extensive history serving the C&O National Park. Visitors might see him installing heavy benches, painting the mule barns, pounding in more than 200 directional signs or leading a group of Garden Club members through Riley’s Lock House to RedStone Mill. The former MCPS administrator is a long-time member of the C&O Canal Association, founded in 1954 by Douglas.
“I became interested in volunteering for the Association when they had the floods in 1996 and they really needed help,” he said. “Now I volunteer at least 300-500 hours every year. In 1999, they developed the bike patrol program and my wife and I were two of the original bike patrollers.”
“The attitude of all of us who volunteer in the Park is that we love the Park and this is a good way to give back that we enjoy,” said Heins. “These volunteers are just a wonderful group of people to know. Most are members of the Canal Association and volunteering together makes us a close-knit family. I like the problem-solving of how to install a 200 pound bench, dig footings, mix and put in 300 pounds of concrete — and the finished result.” Earlier this year, Heins was honored by the National Park Service as the recipient of the 2017 Hartzog Award for Enduring Service.
A few tickets are still available for Park After Dark, “Cheers to 10 Years.” To purchase tickets for the event or to make a donation, go to www.canaltrust.org/parkafterdark.