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November 30, 2021

Federal official, congressman tour canal, park headquarters at Williamsport

Credit: Herald-Mail Media, Mike Lewis

Bundled against late November’s chill, U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland took a boat ride across the restored Conococheague Aqueduct on Monday.

She also toured the new headquarters of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park in Williamsport with U.S. Rep. David Trone as part of a swing through Maryland.

“I’m always very grateful when I come to a National Park Service unit,” Haaland said.

She said she appreciates “the work that the National Park Service staff does to preserve our history, really — serve our American history. And that’s what they’re doing here. It’s an amazing place,” she said.

Haaland is the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet secretary. She is a member of the Pueblo of Laguna and a 35th generation New Mexican. 

She oversees the Interior Department, which is responsible for managing and conserving most federal land and natural resources. The department includes such agencies as the Bureau of Land Management, the United States Geological Survey, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the National Park Service.

The park service was the focus of Monday morning’s visit, her first in the district with Trone.

“I think part of the challenges for the park service is finding a way to make sure they can accomplish their mission in the best possible way for the taxpayers. The example is this building, right?” she said of the C&O’s new $13 million headquarters in Williamsport.

“They’re working hard to make sure that they have something that’s close to where they need to be, but also add an advantage for the taxpayer. So I appreciate that so much. And our job, of course, is to support the work they do.”

The visit came after Congress passed and President Joe Biden signed the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021.

According to the National Parks Conservation Association, the National Park Service will receive more than $1.7 billion from the package.

“Spread out over five years, the investments will improve roads and bridges, modernize transportation systems, support climate adaptations, and better protect wildlife and motorists, among other crucial projects,” the association reported. “The Park Service manages more than 12,600 miles of roads, over 1,440 bridges and 127 transit systems. Nearly 40% of park roads need repair, including Blue Ridge Parkway and roadways within Mojave National Preserve, deteriorating bridges at Great Smoky Mountains and flood-damaged roads at Harpers Ferry.”

Among other things, the package includes $3.2 billion for restoration programs in the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay and Delaware Basin to restore and better protect the waterways and surrounding communities from climate change threats, the association reported.

The C&O Canal park stretches 184 miles from Georgetown in Washington, D.C., to Cumberland, Md. It also passes by a number of Tri-State area towns along the Potomac River, bringing thousands of visitors to those communities.

When asked how the recently passed federal infrastructure bill would affect sites like the C&O Canal, Haaland said the bill will “benefit the entire country.”

Trone, a Democrat who represents Maryland’s 6th Congressional District, voted for the measure. The 6th District includes Washington County.

He called the new law “transformative.”

“I mean, it’s been generations since we put together a bill of this magnitude,” he said. “We can see America’s fall behind IT infrastructure. We’re ranked 13th (according to a World Economic Forum study). So that’s going to help every district in the country.”

He also referred to other parts of Western Maryland. He pointed to the roles that various parks and the Potomac River play in this region.

After the stop in Williamsport on Monday morning, Haaland and Trone visited another National Park Service site, the Antietam National Battlefield near Sharpsburg.

That afternoon, they were in Rockville, Md., for a roundtable discussion focused on how climate change adversely affects underserved communities.