WILLIAMSPORT — Tom Perry has packed nature, faith and music into his 77 years.
Perry and his wife, Linda, are trained to remove an invasive plant along the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal known as garlic mustard, and he volunteers to take church groups and others on guided bicycle rides on the towpath.
He has been described as “the key person” who made the restoration of the Big Slackwater section of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park a reality, and he was honored for his efforts recently during a ceremony hosted by the Berkeley County, W.Va., Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America.
The Big Slackwater section of the C&O Canal was closed after flooding along the Potomac River in 1996. That 2.7-mile section was closed for about 10 years, and was the only broken link in the popular hiking and biking path, which stretches 184.5 miles from Cumberland, Md., to Washington, D.C.
Not only did Perry believe it was important to restore a part of history that led to Washington County’s prosperity in the 1800s and early 1900s, but he wanted Big Slackwater restored for safety reasons.
Because of the closed Big Slackwater section, hikers and bikers were forced to take a hazardous 4.5-mile detour along Dam 4, Dellinger and Avis Mill roads, which have no shoulders. Two years ago, the National Park Service determined that over a five-year period, there were 35 accidents along the detour in which someone was taken to a hospital.
As a member of the Big Slackwater Restoration Committee, Perry and others sought support for the restoration of the deteriorated section of the canal. Organizations were asked to support the restoration, and Perry and others contacted homeowners in the area and users of the towpath to get their input.
In August 2006, Perry and others organized a boat ride on the Potomac River to take elected officials and others down to Big Slackwater to show them the damaged sections.
“That really caused it to sink in,” recalled former state Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, who was on the trip.
Munson said he had been pushing for two bills in the Maryland General Assembly that would have set aside roughly $800,000 for the restoration of a railroad lift bridge and Lock House 44, which are two historic C&O Canal structures in the Williamsport area.
Munson said Perry’s passion for the restoration of Big Slackwater convinced him to instead seek the $800,000 for Big Slackwater.
Funding for the restoration of Big Slackwater came together. The bulk of it — $12.8 million — came from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, commonly known as the stimulus package.
The State of Maryland provided $4.4 million through its Transportation Enhancement Program, and the C&O Canal Trust and the C&O Canal Association also contributed.
The new Big Slackwater stretch of the park now has eight wide bridges, or elevated walkways, along a 1.5-mile stretch, anchored by 121 columns bolted into rock. A ribbon cutting at the site has been scheduled for Oct. 13, Perry said.