When Kevin Brandt came to the C&O National Historical Park in January 1996, it was just after a major snowstorm followed by heavy rains. The Potomac River at Little Falls crested at 19.29 feet on Jan. 21, 1996, historically the fifth highest crest on record.
“Eighty percent of the park was underwater,” he said.
As a matter of fact, damage in the park, 184.5 miles along the C&O Canal from Washington, D.C. to Cumberland, MD, was so bad a colleague called to see if he was really going to accept the position, he said.
He also said he only expected to be in the position for two or three years, but on Sept. 14, he retires as superintendent of the park after 23 years.
“Some people joke that C&O stands for challenges and opportunities,” Brandt said.
Though that is often true, he said, he stayed because of the people, those he worked with and those in the community.
“People care,” he said.
He said safety is the most important part of his job, safety of visitors and safety of employees. The park has close to 5 million visitors each year.
He is most proud of the work being done on the historic structures along the canal. So far seven lockhouses have been restored in collaboration with Canal Quarters, a program of the C&O Canal Trust, that allows people to stay overnight in a bit of living history.
“You can’t walk past a lockhouse that’s shuttered without thinking what life would have been like to work along the canal,” Brandt said. “For me, our heritage is a way to understand where we came from, where we want to go.”
Working with the Trust has been particularly satisfying, he said, developing programs like Canal Pride, which puts volunteers to work in the park, and Canal Classrooms, a program begun in 2013 for students in grades K-12.
Brandt is a 40-year veteran of the National Park Service. He began his career in 1979 managing the restoration of historic structures in numerous parks around the country including Yellowstone, Hot Springs and Bryce Canyon national parks, Padre Island National Seashore, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Chattahoochee River and Glen Canyon national recreation areas and Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve.
“I’ve worked in some gems of the National Parks,” he said.
Brandt is a native of Ames, Iowa and grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio before attending The Ohio State University, graduating in 1981 with a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture. Brandt and his wife, Nancy, have four children and live in Lynchburg, VA.
He has taken a position as a project manager for the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, where he will work on historic preservation projects.
His successor at the C&O National Historic Parks has yet to be named.