AMONG THE fatalities in the final days of the last session of Congress was legislation that would have dedicated the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal to former Justice William O. Douglas. The Senate had passed a bill by unanimous consent, but the version reported by the the House Interior Committee (setting aside only a three mile stretch, between locks 22 and 24) was defeated because its sponsors were unable to get unanimous consent.

Sens. Thomas Eagleton (D-Mo.) and Henry Jackson (D-Wash.) are sponsoring the legislation again. In the list of conservation bills to be offered this year, this piece of legislation is obviously not going to be the most important. But it does have a special meaning, if only because Justice Douglas has had a special devotion to the canal. He often hikes along the towpath and a leader of the forces that secured the canal's preservation as a national historical park. It might have become a highway had he not been so spirited a conservationist.

In view of Mr. Douglas's frail health, the Senate is moving quickly. The House ought to do the same, beginning with the Interior and Insular Affairs Committee. In the past, the bill has languished in subcommittee for one inconsequential reason or another. Only a relatively small sum is involved - an estimated $20,000 that will be used by the Park Service to install signs, change maps and markers and thus inform tomorrow's hikes about Justice Douglas' path. The committee ought to be able to improve on last year's performance and get the legislation promptly to the floor.

With nearly all the national conservation groups, local C & O clubs and the Interior Department supporting the legislation, this is the moment to move. In a few weeks, the canal and towpath will again be one of the community's springtime delights. Those using it ought to be reminded of their debt to the man who said once that "I would like to be remembered as someone who made the earth a little more beautiful."