Law enforcement officials, legislators from Western Maryland and others interested in what happens along the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal said yesterday that they will seek to codify a longstanding cooperative arrangement among state police, the county sheriff and National Park Service rangers for handling reports of crime along the canal in Washington County.
They also sought to dispel the notion that a crime wave has swept up the 186-mile strip of land and water that makes up the C&O Canal National Park.
Officials said that impression had been left by publicity about a letter sent by Rep. Beverly Byron, a Democrat who represents Western Maryland and parts of Montgomery and Howard counties, to the Maryland attorney general's office. She is urging the state to approve a National Park Service proposal for "concurrent jurisdiction" along the canal, which would automatically give state and local police the right to make arrests. Representatives of the state police and the Washington County sheriff's office said yesterday they already do that anyway.
Thomas Deming, the assistant attorney general to whom Byron has been writing, said yesterday that he intends "to get something resolved this summer." But he said that before concurrence is granted for the canal park and two dozen other properties around the state, his office needs to determine just how much federal policing of the properties is taking place.
The state, the U.S. Park Police, National Park Service and local jurisdictions all say they are strapped to pay for additional law enforcement personnel, and are wary of extending their resources.
But as to law-breaking along the canal, "There certainly isn't" much in the way of it there, "unless you consider throwing bottles on the ground a crime," said Western Maryland Republican Del. Donald Munson, who attended a meeting of officials Tuesday in Williamsport to discuss the Park Service proposal.
Byron's interest in enforcement along the canal had been prompted in part by complaints from a constituent, Ronald Hovis of Crewsville, about several encounters he had with rowdy groups and people in the park.
Byron, who canoes along the canal and whose husband, Rep. Goodloe Byron, died in 1978 while jogging on the towpath, serves on the House Interior Committee.
But her district coordinator, Doug Mathias, who attended the meeting, said yesterday that "the Park Service this year seems to be having fewer problems" along the canal.
Questions have arisen about who has the right to do what along the canal because the park is made up of a patchwork of land, some that is the exclusive domain of the Park Service and some that isn't. There is only one ranger for every 42 miles of towpath, and state and local patrols routinely are called to handle problems along the park above Seneca, state police Lt. Cecil Bittinger said.
In the 22 miles between Georgetown and Seneca, U.S. Park Police patrol the park, but county police also have authority to make arrests and handle cases there, a county police spokesman said.