Park expansion approved by U.S. House

September 14, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. - After at least 16 years of work on the plan, the U.S. Congress has paved the way for Harpers Ferry National Historical Park to expand by 1,240 acres.

On Monday, the U.S. House of Representatives gave its blessing to the proposal. The U.S. Senate approved the expansion in May.

The park's boundary will grow from 2,505 acres to 3,745 acres, said Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., who authored the legislation for the expansion. The legislation now goes to President Bush to be signed into law.


Donald Campbell, superintendent of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, praised Congress for passing the park expansion, saying it helps protect "one of the flagships" of West Virginia's tourism industry.

"It bodes well for Jefferson County, the state of West Virginia and the nation," Campbell said Monday night.

"Harpers Ferry is part of the nation's memory of who we are and from where we came as Americans," Campbell said.

Harpers Ferry, at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, is the site of a former federal armory that was captured by abolitionist John Brown and his followers in 1859. It became part of the National Park System in 1944.

"My legislation recognizes the unique character of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park - its natural beauty, its role in American history and its importance to the cultural heritage of our country. This endorsement by the House of Representatives is a great step forward for the (park) and the Eastern Panhandle," Byrd said in a news release.

Various pieces of land have been purchased or set aside for the park over the years, but they could not be added to the park because it had reached its "ceiling" for the amount of land it can own, park officials said.

According to Campbell, the expansion will allow the following properties to be added to the park:

· 375 acres on the western slope of Loudoun Heights, which is across the Shenandoah River from Harpers Ferry. Robert and Emilene Werner of Silver Spring, Md., turned the land over to the park in 1999 to protect the wildlife and wooded lands on the property.

· 177 acres in the School House Ridge area, which the Civil War Preservation Trust purchased for the park.

School House Ridge, which is along U.S. 340 between Charles Town, W.Va., and Harpers Ferry, is where Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson oversaw the capture of 12,500 troops in 1862, the largest capture in the Civil War. It remained the largest military capture until World War II, trust officials said.

· 286 acres off Millville Road and south of U.S. 340, which is owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

· 131 acres along the Appalachian Trail that include some Civil War campgrounds. The property also includes Potoma Wayside, a popular take-out point on the Potomac River for white-water rafting groups.

The expansion plan also allows the Secretary of the Interior to pursue purchase of 191 acres of private land from "willing sellers," Campbell said.

The 191 acres consists of seven parcels in the area of School House Ridge, Campbell said.

Preservation groups and individuals have been pushing for the park expansion, especially in light of rapid development in the area.

Paul Rosa, executive director of the Harpers Ferry Conservancy, thanked local residents who commented favorably for the expansion.

"I think this is outstanding news," Rosa said.

"It's fitting that this legislation passed on the 142nd anniversary of the siege of Harpers Ferry," said Scot Faulkner, president of the Friends of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, another organization that supported the expansion.

"America is richer for preserving the important historical resources of the Harpers Ferry area," Faulkner said in a news release.

In 1988, Congress mandated a special boundary study to examine preserving additional lands, Faulkner said. The report identified major historic and natural resources outside the park, Faulkner said.

Congress also mandated an outreach program to assess local support for the expansion. An outreach support report showed overwhelming local support for the expansion, Faulkner said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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