Level Walker Program Updates

Hello Level Walkers!

There has been a great deal of activity lately as we reactivate volunteer activity. This update is intended to update or clarify a few of the aspects related to level walking. With no further ado –


Communications – Since early 2017, I have used this blog to post relevant information about the park and the Level Walker program. This is not an official C&O Canal Association or National Park Service blog; it is privately administered by me in my role as the Level Walker chairperson. It has a number of advantages – it is more secure than a mass email mailing (risk of inadvertent release of people’s email addresses); it provides an on-line archive of all information I post; and supports rapid transmission of information.

To receive the updates, you only need to provide your email in the FOLLOW BLOG VIA EMAIL block on this page. You will not receive junk mail or be added to any list for doing this, you will simply receive the updates when I post them. One note about the emails you receive – they are NOT sent by me. They are automatically generated by WordPress. If you respond, I will not receive your response. You can email me separately if you ever have a question about one of the posts.


Level Walker Status – We recently received permission to reactivate all level walker assignments. I have tried to reach out to all of you who have recently been active, but of course I may have missed someone. If you haven’t heard from me, please contact me. If you have received an email from me but have not responded, please let me know if you intend to return to level walking or want to take a break. If you don’t respond after a while I will assume you intend to discontinue level walking.

You must satisfy all requirements to reactivate and maintain your status as an active level walker. As with all C&O Canal National Historical Park volunteer activities, the Level Walker program has a unique mission and its own requisites for a volunteer to participate. Some are the same or similar to other programs, but all must be verified before you can be activated as a level walker and remain one. The requirements are:

  1. You need to be a C&O Canal Association member. (Association)
  2. You must complete and submit a Volunteer Service Agreement (VSA). Any pre-COVID VSAs are invalid at this point. (NPS)
  3. You must complete any training requirements that the NPS invokes. (NPS)
  4. You need to be an active level walker, which means walking your level(s) – and filing a report – at least once a year. (Association)

As noted above, Requirements 1 through 3 are mandatory, and if you do not fulfill them for any reason, then we must exclude you as a volunteer. The VSA is particularly important. It is a U.S. Government form (OF301a) that is submitted directly to the NPS, and is required of all NPS volunteers. If you do not complete it you are not covered in the event of any injury or other incident. Note that you only need to complete one VSA for the C&O Canal NHP; if you have done one for another C&O Canal NHP program your level walker assignment can be added to the VSA by the NPS volunteer program manager. In that event, I need to know that you have done that.

We have a little more flexibility with Requirement 4. If you need to take a break from volunteer activity because of medical or personal reasons but intend to return as a volunteer later, you can let me know and I will keep you on the level walker list in a “hold” status. Otherwise, after a period of time I drop you from the volunteer list. Remember – I need to have a report from you to count it as a level walk.

Some people are also being careful about the COVID-19 pandemic and holding off on volunteer activity. That is a very valid concern. In that case you can still complete the reactivation requirements so they are out of the way, but remain on hold.


Level Walk Reports – The majority of you provide your reports by email. A select few submit paper reports. The level walker report is an evolving process and new reporting criteria will roll out around the first of the calendar year. All reports are filed and retained – and are greatly appreciated. One thing to note – I can’t always quickly respond to reports due to schedule and email volume. If something in your report requires immediate attention please put URGENT in the subject line.


Level Walker Program Activity – As a federal agency, the park tracks volunteer activity by the number of hours over a fiscal year. For Fiscal Year 2020 (1 October 2019 to 30 September 2020), the Level Walker program reported the following:

Volunteer hours – 848
Volunteers – 79 (note – this includes family and friends who participated in level walks
Level walks – 224
Trash bags (equivalent) – 92

This is a little less activity than normal, but the program was effectively shut down for four months. It is still a significant contribution to the park. Thanks for all you do to be part of the team!


That’s all for now. I am still waiting to reactivate a few level walkers. Once I do that I will be requesting support for some underserved levels throughout the park. This will be either on a temporary or permanent basis.

Steve


Image – Dam 4 in autumn – Level 32

Level Walker Update

Hello Level Walkers!

It’s been a while since I’ve written! My intent was to get in touch with you to kick off the spring, when many level walkers return to the towpath. Of course, the pandemic has affected us all in many ways; I hope you are all coping well and staying healthy.  As you most likely have heard, at the present time, volunteer activities are suspended on the C&O Canal NHP. We’ll update you when that status changes.

Over the past month, I’ve reviewed recent level walker activity and the coverage we provide to the park. I’m happy to report you all have done a great job!  You are a great resource for the park, and the program provides a unique service. Some of you focus on clean-up activities, some delight in the natural aspects of our park, some provide insightful details about the conditions of the towpath and structures, and some cover just about everything.

My review did find that there are some sections of the park that would benefit from more coverage. I am looking at ways to improve coverage in these areas, and if you are interested in other opportunities please let me know.  The levels are throughout the park, and I plan to reach out to some of you individually to discuss possible realignment of assignments.

I recently contacted you individually regarding the National Park Service Volunteer Service Agreements (VSAs). These agreements are a mandatory requirement for all volunteers on national parks, and the NPS now asks that we renew them annually. If I contacted you, and you have already responded, thank you. If I haven’t heard from you I will be reminding you.  You only need to do one, and if you support other programs and included level walking on a VSA for that program, you are covered. In that case, please let me know you did that so I can update your status for the Level Walker program.

If I haven’t contacted you about the VSA, I either missed you for some reason or I may not have you on the list of active level walkers. There are three things needed to stay in the level walker program: the VSA, current C&O Canal Association membership, and recent (within one year) level walking activity.

Over the next few months I will be revising the level walk reporting format. This change is to better address the type of information collected and make it as relevant as possible to the park’s needs. Hopefully it will simplify things a bit, too.

One other note on reports – you may have noticed in the March Along the Towpath that the period of reports covered now ends on the last day of the month before the newsletter is produced – i.e. January 31 for the March issue. This allows more time for production of the article for the newsletter.

I’ll be in touch later, as the season progresses. For now – stay well!


Image – Broad Run Trunk -– Level 13

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

2017 Volunteer Appreciation Dinners

Hello Level Walkers,

The 2017 Volunteer Appreciation Dinners for C&O Canal NHP volunteers will be held on the following dates:

Cumberland – Western Maryland Train Station – October 4 – 5:45 to 9:00 p.m.

Williamsport – Springfield Barn – October 5 – 5:45 to 9:00 p.m.

Palisades – Glen Echo Park Bumper Car Pavillion – October 12 – 5:45 to 9:00 p.m.

Select whichever one is appropriate for the area you serve in. As it stands now I will be at all three to meet you and talk about our program. This is an excellent chance to meet some of the NPS people we work with, mingle with your fellow volunteers, and learn about other programs on the park.

If you would like to attend 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 what program(s) you are with. If you want, you can also let me know, so I will look for you.

I hope to see some of you there!

Also – if you have a level walker report for the period ending August 15th please send it to me soon so I can include it in the September Along the Towpath.  It doesn’t need to be lengthy – just the hours, dates, metrics and any unusual findings. Short anecdotal stories are always welcome!

Thanks for the great job you do as volunteers for the C&O Canal NHP!


Above – Great Blue Heron, Level 16, August 12, 2017 (This handsome creature stole the show during our dragonfly hike!)

Below – Volunteer Appreciation Dinner Announcement

Dinner Flyer[2]

Volunteer Opportunities, Level Walks, and Molly

 


Two rites of spring are coming up – the Potomac Watershed Cleanup on April 8, and the Garlic Mustard Challenge. Jim Heins manages several sites for the watershed cleanup and he has site leaders assigned for each site. We need some help out there; sign-ups are a little lower than normal, and if you want to help you can contact Jim at vip@candocanal.org. You must sign up before participating. The sites include Carderock (my site), Swains Lock, Pennyfield Lock, Angler’s Inn and Violette’s Lock.  This is work, but it can be a fun event – “who found the oddest thing” is popular, and you will see early wildflowers and great views of the river. Families and kids are welcome!

April is Garlic Mustard month. The garlic mustard is winning in many places. There are several sites along the canal that are adopted, but there are plenty more to go around. There will also be two group events – the first at Carderock on April 22, 9 a.m. to noon, and the second at Swains Lock on May 6, 9 a.m. to noon.  If you are interested and want to get involved, contact Jim or Steve at gmc@candocanal.org.

Level walker activity has started to increase with the start of spring-like weather.  I like winter, but I have to admit the first few spring walks are intoxicating! As you get out on your levels, bear in mind to keep an eye out for towpath surface conditions and debris that could impact bike users and walkers. With the spring rains upon us, be mindful of blocked culverts or prism washouts.  If you’re used to being on the towpath in winter with no bikes, watch out because they are back and some riders go through pretty quickly. I will be sending out safety guidelines in a future blog.

Several of you have used the level.molly@gmail.com for submitting reports. Thank you. That is not a must-do, but it does help segregate reports from the other mail.  I have eight or nine addresses that I receive canal-related email at, and the levelwalker address is a target of frequent spam. Using this special address helps out, because I can search on the name “Molly” – I have no Molly contacts or level walkers so this has helped.

And – many of you have asked who Molly is – wife, old girlfriend, mother, niece?  Actually, I once owned a racing go-kart in my crazy 20s called “Molly-K” for “molybdenum kart,” but that’s not it either. Molly is my six-year old tuxedo cat; I rescued her as a four-week old kitten someone dropped in front of my house. She is a nervous, introverted feline who has little use for other cats or people, mostly just me. She “lap edits” much of Along the Towpath and sees it before anyone else does.

Top Photo –  Carderock Pavilion; May 3, 2015 –  Level 5

Bottom Photos – Molly the cat; note on the left that she enjoys Along the Towpath, at least the delivery box 

 

 

Level Walk Reports

You won’t always see three blogs on the same day, but I wanted to kick off with a fair amount of useful info for your first visit. Most of us are in the age range to remember the Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys book series. They started with feeder sets of three (1927 for the Hardys and 1930 for Nancy). I collect old series books so I am well familiar with this concept, and copied the idea as a feeder set of blogs.

Level Walker reports are a significant element in how we do business.  When I started as a level walker in the fall of 1992 we only did paper forms and mailed them in.  Several still do that! (Which is fine.) The majority I receive now are via email. I am flexible on how you submit reports – I receive them in five different file formats.  I’ve even gotten text messages and phone calls! It is all valuable, even the small bits of info add up to the bigger story of the use and conditions of our beloved park.

Tracking all of this info is a bit dicey sometimes because of the volume of email we all seem to receive no matter what we do. You may have noticed I can’t always get back to you right away.  That is not a lack of interest or appreciation, just a fact that I have to manage my time and I can’t always respond quickly.  I do screen emails for emergent issues that require more immediate action.

I have considered an alternate submission method, but our diverse group of users are not all ready for that.  Over time I will reconsider that; but for now email still rules.  You’ve probably also been frustrated if you’ve seen that I missed your report in Along the Towpath or failed to respond to a question.  I regret that, but it is a human mistake. I can’t blame the editor because we are the same person! I would like to ask you to consider the following things when you submit:

  1. Submit reports to level.molly@gmail.com. This will separate level walker reports from other emails and improve my chances of keeping track of them.
  2. Put “LW Report” in the subject line of the email that includes the report. This is especially important if you send me multiple emails about your walk.
  3. If there is a serious condition that requires attention put “Condition” in the subject line. Remember that you should call 866-877-6677 for an actual park emergency.
  4. If there is a question for me that needs a timely response put “Question” in the subject line.

In a future blog I will discuss upcoming revisions to the report form. Thanks!

Photos – Bald Eagles and Aerie across Potomac from Mile 39; 18 March 2017 – Level 15