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W.Va. firing range

June 14, 2000

A firing range proposed near historic Harper's Ferry that preservationists feared would hurt tourism at the historic Civil War site will now apparently bring 100 new federal jobs without disturbing visitors to the national park at all. U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., deserves praise for his willingness to quickly work out a compromise.

Controversy arose last month when it was discovered that Byrd had added $24.9 million to a Senate appropriations bill, funds that would be used to expand the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, which now has locations in Georgia and New Mexico. Training, including firearms instruction, would be provided to a variety of federal agencies.

What concerned preservationists was that the 327-acre parcel was located near Schoolhouse Ridge, where Confederate forces under the command of Gen. Stonewall Jackson captured 12,500 Union troops in 1862.

The compromise will give the Treasury Department 30 acres for the training facility, which will include an enclosed firing range, while the remaining 297 acres will be transferred to the Interior Department, where it will presumably become part of the park's protected areas.

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If all this seems like a tempest in a teapot, remember that development of historic property is a one-way street; once it happens, it will not easily be reversed. The greater likelihood is that it won't be reversed at all, and as the population grows, there'll be even more pressure from those who own property to get the maximum return from it.

For those who are inclined to shrug their shoulders when such things happen, we ask them to remember that the United States was preserved by citizen soldiers fighting and dying in places like Schoolhouse Ridge.

Shame on us if we forget their sacrifices and fail to honor them by preserving the places where they suffered and died, and thanks to Sen. Byrd for a compromise that will add jobs without destroying the land's historic character.

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