Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2018 - 56

by Eric J. Wallace * Photos by Holt Messerly

River Master
The

As a 10-year-old, Bill Trout asked a question about an
old lock on the James River. The lack of an answer
from the adults around him sent Trout into a life
dedicated to canals and locks, to river visits all over
the world, and to creating guidebooks for waterways
in Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina.
Canals
expert Bill
Trout stands
with his late
wife, Nancy,
holding a
river atlas
at a Virginia
Canals &
Navigations
Society event.

A little over 70 years ago, American Canal Society founder and Virginia Canals & Navigations Society director,
Bill Trout, attended a fieldtrip that
would change his life. While hiking
with his Boy Scout troop along the
James River in Richmond, Virginia,
10-year-old Trout spotted
the stone remains of one
of the nation's oldest canal locks and asked what
it was.
"Lucky for me, our
guide didn't know the
answer and I was left to
research things on my
own," he laughs. "If that
wouldn't have happened,
my life might've been
very different."
Visiting the library,
Trout discovered the
structure was part of the
ruins of the James River
and Kanawha Canal-a project dating to George Washington and others' efforts to develop a commercial
trade route linking the James and
Ohio rivers in the 1780s. "I became
fascinated," he says. "Here was all
this history, right here in our backyard, and no one seemed to know
much about it. It was quite the trea-

sure hunt."
While Trout went on to earn his
doctorate in biology and worked for
25 years as a genetic researcher in
Los Angeles, his interest in canals
was steadfast.
"If I'd thought I could make a

like Russia, France, China, England,
and other nations. Then, in 1972, he
helped found the ACS.
"There were sites all along the East
Coast that were in danger of being
lost and we wanted to do something
to preserve them before they vanished," he says. "So, I worked
with two others to create a
national organization that
would help manage, restore,
protect, and offer advice for
the recreational use of historical canals."
Five years later, in 1977,
hoping to protect the structures closest to his heart,
Trout founded the VC&NS.
"The name was a mouthful, but we wanted to include all the waterways in
the state that'd featured
commercial or passenger
navigation," he says. That
way, the organization could serve as
a vessel for the preservation of canals
and waterways, as well as their history and lore.
In 1983, when the leader of
Trout's research center retired, the
VC&NS mission got a huge boost.
"Basically, the program closed down
and I decided to go home and write

Trout discovered the
structure was part of the
ruins of the James River and
Kanawha Canal-a project
dating to George Washington
and others' efforts to develop
a commercial trade route
linking the James and Ohio
rivers in the 1780s.

56 BlueRidgeCountry.com

living studying them, that's what I
would've pursued," he says. "However, in those days, it wasn't really
an option. So, for me, it became an
extremely immersive hobby."
With his work as a researcher carrying him to scientific conferences
around the world, Trout took vacation days to explore canals in places


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Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2018

Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2018 - Intro
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2018 - Cover1
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2018 - Cover2
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2018 - 3
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2018 - 4
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Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2018 - Cover3
Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2018 - Cover4
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