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Park boundary expansion debated

June 11, 1998|By CLYDE FORD

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Residents were split Wednesday on whether the Jefferson County Commission should support an expansion of the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park boundaries.

About 65 people attended the public hearing in the Jefferson County Planning Commission room.

County Commission approval is the first step in obtaining federal legislation to extend the park's boundaries, said Scot Faulkner, president of the Friends of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

The legislation would not force landowners to sell their property and would not change local land-use laws, Faulkner said.

Faulkner said a study showed that an estimated $15 million was spent by park visitors at businesses around the park. If the boundaries were increased and there was more for visitors to see, then the amount could increase to $22 million by 2004, he said.

Robert Murto of Bakerton, W.Va., said expanded tourism would increase traffic on the already overcrowded two-lane bridges across the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers on U.S. 340.

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Harry Biller, of Harpers Ferry, W.Va., said the park already has too much land.

"I can't fish where I used to fish as a kid. I can't put a boat in there," Biller said.

A 1989 study showed that 2,074 acres outside the park's boundaries in West Virginia, Virginia and Maryland are historically important and should be preserved, Faulkner said.

Landowners and Civil War land preservation groups have obtained 580 acres for the purpose of protecting them. Another additional 960 acres in the study area are for sale, Faulkner said.

Bill Theriault, president of the Jefferson County Historic Landmarks Commission, said he supports the boundary expansion as long as property owners sell willingly.

Dennis Frye, president of the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites, said the land is attractive to preservationists because it has not been overly developed.

"Thomas Jackson could look at School House Ridge and recognize that ground," Frye said.

The Jefferson County Commission is expected to review the issue today and either vote to support the expansion, deny support or wait 30 days to accept written comments from other residents.

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