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River walk across Potomac set for today

October 17, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.VA. - Amazing is the word Shepherdstown Mayor Peter Wilson used to describe the time he walked across the Potomac River at Pack Horse Ford, where the water never rose above his knees.

Surrounded by water and an unimaginable view of the mountains was an inspiring experience, Wilson said.

Today, anyone interested can experience the same feeling during a planned walk across the river.

One of the driving forces behind the event was a need Wilson felt to have people understand the importance of the river to the town's history.

Pack Horse Ford and the Town Run, a stream that meanders through town and powered the town founder's grist mill, are the reasons the town exists, he said.

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"Shepherdstown would still be woods" without them, Wilson said.

Among the organizers of the event is Jay Hurley, proprietor of O'Hurley's General Store in Shepherdstown.

One recent afternoon, Hurley sat on a makeshift stool in the back of his shop, where he was stenciling letters onto a homemade sign advertising the Pack Horse Ford River Walk.

Those who wish to participate should meet at the intersection of German and King streets, in front of McMurran Hall, at noon. Hurley, Wilson and others then will walk down German Street, which later turns into River Road, until they come to the ford.

Hurley could not lay claim to the idea.

"It was the mayor's idea, to bring awareness to our historical heritage," Hurley said. "The things we will pass (on the walk) will be one of Shepherdstown's earliest schools - the old German school it's called - (and) the old reform church, where a little bit of history is, particularly with the bell tower. ..."

Among other noteworthy sites, participants also will pass the ruins of a former cement plant, where the cement used for the base of the Washington Monument was manufactured.

Someone accurately described Pack Horse Ford to Hurley as being, in its day, comparable to the intersection of Interstates 70 and 81 today, he said.

The ford was the nexus of transportation and the only way to cross the river for miles until a ferry started operating in the late 1700s.

After River Walk participants walk across the ford to the C&O Canal, an interpreter will give a presentation about the Shepherdstown boat lock, which allowed boats to pick up goods from Shepherdstown before continuing down the canal to Georgetown, Hurley said.

Once the interpretative program is over and people have had a chance to warm up, they will be shuttled across the river back to the West Virginia side. Antique and other unique boats will be used, Hurley said.

There, near the Princess Street boat ramp, a picnic is planned. Hot dogs will be provided and Hurley asks participants to drop off a covered dish at noon before the walk begins.

Participants also are asked to bring an extra pair of dry shoes and socks, a warm jacket and a backpack to carry the items.

"A walking stick would be nice, too," Hurley said.

Campfires will be burning at the site of the picnic, which Hurley said would be a beautiful spot for a park.

"The waterfront has been neglected for years," he said.

Learning about the town's history and exploring the waterfront possibilities are the on-the-record reasons for having the walk.

"The real reason is it's going to be a heck of a lot of fun," Hurley said.

Anywhere from 20 to 120 people might take part, Hurley guessed. Those who cannot or do not want to walk the mile and a half to the river can meet at the ford at around 1 p.m. People also may come only to the waterfront for food and music, starting at around 2:30 p.m.

The event will be held rain or shine. Hurley said exceptionally bad weather or high water could cause a cancellation; he's hoping the river at the ford is a foot to 18 inches deep.

"The mayor's going to walk it Saturday and he'll give it the yay or nay," Hurley said.

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