Welcome Fall!

Hello Level Walkers!

We all have our favorite seasons, and for many of our canal fans fall is at the top of the list.  Some of us prefer to level walk in the cooler months, while for others fall is the end of their canal activities until the spring.  If you are like me and spend even more time on the canal in the fall and winter, err on the side of caution. Ticks never seem to go away and snakes are pretty active in the fall.  Remember the previous blog about copperheads – and google “copperhead in leaves” if you want to see how well they are camouflaged. Exercise care around trees; blustery fall days can result in falling branches. With the emerald ash borer damage, branches seem to be falling with increasing frequency.

Fall marks the end of the federal fiscal year.  With that in mind, if you have any unreported volunteer hours for the last few weeks please get them to me before October 3rd. If you are not ready to do a report, don’t worry, just send me the hours. Volunteer hours are important to the park – they demonstrate public support for the park. As a C&O Canal NHP volunteer you are part of one of the largest corps of volunteers in the park system.

I hope to see a few of you at the park volunteer appreciation dinners.  I will have a few level walker hats, so if you need a hat, make sure you look me up. If you have any questions about the volunteer dinners contact the volunteer coordinator office at the email address provided in the earlier blog.

Thanks for all you do for the C&O Canal!

Above – Lock 34, Level 23, October 18, 2014

Below – Potomac River at Lock 34

Lock 34 river

Copperheads – They’re Everywhere!

The following note is from the C&O Canal NHP Safety Officer, John Adams. Copperhead sightings and bites have been on the increase this year in Maryland. With a little care the risk can be minimized.  Please read it carefully and heed the safety cautions; especially how to respond to a bite. If you encounter any copperheads (without getting bitten) on your level, let me know and I will inform the park so they can track the areas where copperheads are active. – LWC

The park had a lot of juvenile copperhead snakes in the Palisades Maintenance yard about two years ago and had to hire a pest removal company. This year, a bunch of juvenile copperhead snakes have taken over the mule barn (white garage building by E-House/Ranger Station) at Palisades.  I’ve also been told we have copperhead snakes at the downstream end of Paw Paw Tunnel and I saw approximately five last week in the canal prism to confirm.  Over the past two years, we’ve had several visitors that were bitten by copperhead snakes near the river and on the Billy Goat Trail.

First thing first.  Copperhead snakes are a natural predator and are not to be killed.  They do serve a purpose in getting rid of mice and other small rodents.   Did you know that the white footed mice are the only documented source of Lyme Disease?  The deer tick bites the mouse and acquires the virus and then transmits the virus to humans. So snakes are helpful.  They also eat birds, lizards, other snakes, frogs, and some large insects.

Snakes are looking for two things – shelter and food.  If you take away the food and other items that attract mice, the snakes will leave also.  Also, if you get rid of openings and small spaces for snakes to enter and hide in, they will also find another place to dwell.

Copperhead snakes account for most of the venomous snake bites in the US and bites usually occur when they are stepped on or a person decides to try and pick one up.  You have probably stepped over or passed by countless copperhead snakes in your lifetime and never knew it.  Their first line of defense is to be camouflaged and this works best when they remain still.

If a snake feels threatened, they will bite and you could be injected with venom.  The venom will not typically kill a healthy adult human but it is very painful and can cause serious damage to skin, muscle, and bone tissue.

Prevention is the key.   Avoid areas where copperhead snakes have been sighted.  If you must work in these areas, make sure you have adequate lighting to see all areas and never ever reach into an unknown area or step into an unexplored area.  Use a long pole or rake to clear debris and use extreme caution when picking up items.  Move items cautiously and ensure no snakes are hidden under, behind, or inside objects.  Boots and heavy leather gloves can help minimize bites but may not prevent them.  If you find a snake, you have options.  You can leave the area and call for assistance.  You can allow the snake to escape from the area and go on it’s way.  If you feel comfortable working around snakes, you can relocate them to a wilderness area by picking them up using a long handled flat shovel, rake, snake tongs or other long object.  Use extreme caution and never handle a snake with your hands.

If you are bitten by a snake, this is an emergency condition.

  1. Immediately notify Dispatch (866-677-6677).  You can also notify 911.
  2. Clean the bite area with generous amounts of soap and water.  If water is not available, use an alcohol wipe or antibiotic to clean area.
  3. IMPORTANT:  Remove any rings, jewelry or other items that will bind your your body.  The area will begin to swell quickly and it needs to be free to do so.
  4. Stay calm and wait for transport to the hospital.
  5. Do NOT cut open the wound and try to “suck” out the venom.  It doesn’t work and you will simply make a bad situation even worse.
  6. Do NOT apply ice or tourniquet.  They can cause more damage.
  7. Hospitals in our area do not need to know the snake species so do NOT try to capture the snake and risk getting bit again.  If needed, hospitals will treat all venomous snake bites in our area with the same anti-venom.

As for snake repellents, none have been proven to be effective and appear to be a waste of money and time.  The key is to safely remove the food and shelter and the snakes will move on.

If you see copperhead snakes, please record a description of the area and the date and time.  

Above – Young copperhead on the towpath at Seneca, Level 10, May 30, 2009

Below – Copperhead watching surroundings, and head detail. I warned visitors until it departed the towpath. Many visitors were unaware what it was and didn’t realize it was poisonous; a couple people wanted to pick it up.

VIP Speaker Series and Update on Volunteer Dinners

The following messages are from the National Park Service.  Further information is available from the indicated contact. – LWC

VIP Speaker Series –

Williamsport, MD – Have you wondered what it is that a Park Ranger does? Join us Saturday, September 23rd at 2:00 p.m. in the Trolley Barn at Cushwa Basin to hear about the crazy and wild adventures of retired C&O Canal National Historical Park, Park Ranger Mike Barnhart.

Mike has had an extensive 33 year career with the National Park Service and in that time he has traveled the world. Some of his special assignments sent him to the Winter Olympics, to South Africa’s International Ranger programs and to the west to fight wildfires. Mike could not stay away from the Park Ranger life too long, as he is now a volunteer at Cushwa Basin.

This exciting one-hour presentation will leave you on the edge of your seats wanting to learn more about the life of a Park Ranger. So please come ready to listen and come with questions to ask longtime friend, co-worker and supporter of the C&O Canal National Historical Park, Mike Barnhart.

The program is free and space is limited to the first 40 guests. If you would like to attend this event, please RSVP with your name and how many will be in your party. For more information or to RSVP, please contact Kelsey Smith, Assistant Volunteer Coordinator, at chohvip@gmail.com. Cushwa Basin is located at 205 W. Potomac St. Williamsport, MD 21795

Volunteer Appreciation Dinners –

This is a reminder that if you haven’t registered for the Volunteer Appreciation Dinners and plan to, you should do it soon.  The RSVP date is September 28th. See my August 15th post for further info.

Also – the dinners will include a dessert contest this year! The contest is limited to 25 people for Great Falls, and 15 for each Cumberland and Williamsport. If you want to participate, please contact per below and indicate what kind of dessert you plan to bring.

If you would like to attend one of the dinners or bring a dessert, please email chohvip@gmail.com or call 301-745-5810, and include which dinner you plan to attend and how many guests are in your party. Also let them know which program(s) you are with.

I hope to see some of you there!

Photo – Ferry Hill, Levels 27 & 28, September 7, 2017