Mike Barnhardt, an Interpretive Volunteer at the Williamsport Visitor Center, is a very accomplished volunteer and retired ranger. In Mike’s 33 year-long career with the Park Service, he worked as lands manager at the C&O Canal, he served as chief ranger at Antietam National Battlefield, he worked at the Preauthorization Lands Office in DC, he was an investigator for environmental crimes in DC, and was a law enforcement ranger at Catoctin Mountain park. Mike’s experiences in the Park Service took him to the Winter Olympic Games at Salt Lake City, the International Ranger Federation at Cougar National Park in South Africa, and Scotland. In addition to being a visitor center volunteer at the Canal, Mike also volunteers at Catoctin Mountain Park and is a member of the Western Maryland Interpretive Association Board of Directors for Antietam and Monocacy National Battlefields. 

Mike agreed to meet for a short interview to share his experiences in the National Parks Service and tell why he’s a volunteer at the C&O Canal.

What brings you back the C&O Canal?

One of the reasons why I wanted to come back is I was on planning team in 1985 for the Canal in Williamsport when it wasn’t part of the park yet. I worked on a lot of planning teams in 33 years and this is the only planning document that I ever worked on that’s 99% complete. Re-watering the Cushwa Basin…done. Talked about getting the boat…well we have a small boat…that’s done. We talked about restoring lock 44. We did it, but it still has problems we’re going to do that this summer. The lift bridge is up. I want to volunteer here to see everything that we started in the planning…and it seems to be well on its way. 

What is your favorite part about volunteering for the C&O Canal? 

What I enjoy most is talking to people about the history of the canal and civil war. Now that I’m retired I enjoy doing interpretive talks. I give a talk called “So You Want to Be a Park Ranger?” where I do a slide show of my career. This includes slides of the winter Olympics, my travels to the International Ranger Federation in Cougar National Park in South Africa, and my trip in 2006 to Scotland. 

I also like to do historical research. I did a research project on the Bollman bridge here at Williamsport to determine who owned it. The town thought they owned it so I went to the National archives in DC to investigate. In my research I found that the bridge was in fact property of the C&O Canal. 

Do you have any stories from your days working for the park service?

I was working the guard shack outside of Camp David during Christmas time. Normally the presidents would spend their holidays here and there was a first lady that knew we weren’t with our families. That snowy night, at 9 or 10 o’clock, a golf cart drives to the guard shack and we hear a voice. “Ranger could you eat some cookies and hot chocolate” Mrs. Bush got out and says “I made the cookies myself, but the hot chocolate the marines made so I’m not so sure how good it is”.

If you had a time machine where would you go in C&O Canal History / Future? 

That’s an easy question. I’d go back to 1972 and be a ranger on the canal another 33 years! I really enjoyed working the Park Service. In fact, I got the ranger badge tattooed on my arm two days after I retired from my job.

If you’d like to volunteer at the Williamsport Visitor Center contact Kelly Fox at Kelly_Fox@nps.gov or visit the Volunteer-in-Parks website www.chohvip.org