Dozens of community members, history lovers and volunteers found their way to Lock 4 of the C&O Canal Thursday to share memories and honor The Georgetown canal boat. The boat will be moved in the next several weeks to Fletchers Cove where it will be dismantled; disassembled out of existence.
The National Park Service, which operates the C&O Canal and its historic outreach programs, determined that repairs to the mule-drawn 1870's replica boat would be "cost prohibitive," according to John Noel, a regional spokesperson for the agency.
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Arlette Cahen-Coppock, a local salon owner, along with her husband Bob Coppock organized the farewell party for the boat Thursday evening.
The pair dressed in black and black balloons lined the walls of the buildings that front on the canal. Cahen-Coppock said the boat had champagne when it was new, so it should celebrated upon its departure, too. She was in mourning.
"It's terrible," said Cathy Cooper, a longtime volunteer on the canal in Georgetown.
The boat has been in poor condition in recent years. It was taken out of service last season and even then required continued upkeep from NPS staff, who have had to bail out the water it takes on as it sits in the canal.
Pam Burgess, who volunteered and dressed in period costumes for 15 years, said she is "devastated" by the loss of the boat.
Burgess used to bring along her daughter, Anna Houle, who is now in college. Together they walked the mules and shared the history of The Georgetown with people who would come from around country and the world.
"People thanked us profusely" for sharing the history of the boat and that time in the nation's history, she explained.
She worries that the new launch boat program will not offer a comparable experience.
Another guest remarked over the loss of the educational aspect of the canal boat program. The large mule-drawn boat could two classrooms worth of school children. The new motorized launch boats can hold only about a dozen.
Depsite the somber occasion Cahen-Coppock and Coppock seemed to relish the opportunity to mingle with so many people who shared their affection for the red, white and blue boat.
The hope now is to get a new replica boat to replace The Georgetown and bring a mule-drawn boat back to the canal. But the cost could be immense.
Cahen-Coppock said what they need is a "benefactor" to help fund a new boat.
Though the community has already offered monetary support. The salon owner said one of her clients already offered to write a check to help with the cost, but at this point there is no one to make the check out to.
Coppock said he is not sure how they will proceed at this point, whether with their own nonprofit, in cooperation with the Canal Trust or some other route.
The event Thursday, though, gave them hope. The couple said they did not know how many people to expect, but that the turnout heartened them to see so many new faces in support of the cause.
The Georgetown cannot be saved. So, Cahen-Coppock remarked, "I look to the future."