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Canal Towns initiative launches

By Staff | Sep 30, 2011

On Friday, Sept. 23, representatives from Shepherdstown and Harpers Ferry/Bolivar, as well as six towns along the C&O Canal in Maryland ,gathered at the National Historic Park at Ferry Hill Plantation to launch the Canal Towns Partnership.

The initiative, which has been in the works since late 2009, is a cooperative among the participating towns along the canal to encourage visitors to the region to explore the towns’ services and amenities.

Brian Carlstrom, deputy superintendent at the C&O Canal National Historic Park, said while the park plays a supportive role in the partnership, he hopes to see its 4 million-plus visitors take advantage of the towns’ attractions.

“There are some businesses that have become sort of local regular stops for the through-riders,” he said.

Shepherdstown residents Lois Turco and Meredith Wait served on the partnership board as the town’s representatives through the process of working with the other canal towns. The two women, who serve various other boards and organizations in the town and region, could not pass up the opportunity to be a part of it.

“This was a pretty natural fit,” Wait said. “I think the tourism industry is a very nice, clean industry that we can do well.”

Turco said being a part of the initiative does not mean building on to anything the town already has. It simply means promoting what Shepherdstown has to offer.

“From Shepherdstown’s point of view, it looked like another way to market the town’s uniqueness,” she said.

Wait said Shepherdstown has a commercial and industrial history with the town that it is now capitalizing on.

“We’re rekindling old economic life,” she said.

“What’s coming out of this is a new type of tourism for the 21st century – experiential tourism,” Turco said.

At last week’s launch, various representatives from government spoke, including a staff member of Sen. Joe Manchin.

Mary Jo Brown, regional representative for Manchin, said “he just loves the idea of collaboration” between the two states.

“You have the ability to join together to discuss innovative solutions to challenges facing your communities. You have the motivation to make your communities stronger and highlight the many recreational and tourism opportunities that surround you. Last but not least each one of you has a can-do attitude and unwavering dedication to this cause,” Sen. Manchin’s statement read, highlighting the three characteristics former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz sought for success.

Delegate John Doyle (D-Jefferson) said the Potomac River has long been a political boundary – something that should change.

“I think we need to think of it more as something that binds us together, not something that separates us,” he said. “And I think this is a step in the right direction.”

Shepherdstown Mayor Jim Auxer said the town, the oldest in West Virginia, is behind the effort 100 percent.

Carroll Jones, mayor of Brunswick, Md., after discussing his family’s connections with Shepherd University with Auxer, said those involved with the partnership should be proud of themselves. But, after looking at the agenda for the launch, he believed he knew the secret to the success.

“I don’t see a ‘D’ or an ‘R’ on here. That’s part of the secret,” Jones said.

After the launch, participants were able to browse exhibits about the canal around the plantation home at Ferry Hill. At each town, there will be branded kiosks with brochures and information specific to each town.

Both Turco and Wait agree it was nice to see all of the ideas from the 27-month journey come to fruition.

Turco does not see the partnership ending now that the launch has happened. She sees opportunities to cross-promote events in other towns and send bikers and hikers along to other towns who stop here.

“It’s not only just a partnership with people. It’s sharing knowledge,” she said. “It’s part of a journey. People want to experience towns now.”