Park a good neighbor to Harpers Ferry

December 19, 2004|by Scot M. Faulkner

The last few months have brought a series of great victories for those who view Harpers Ferry National Historical Park as a vital part of our community.

On Sept. 13, Congress passed S.1576, adding up to 1,140 acres to the Park. Just 11 days later, on Sept.24, President Bush signed the legislation making it Public Law 108-307. This commitment to preserving additional scenic and historic lands in the Harpers Ferry area was backed up with $2.9 million in federal funds as part of the governmentwide continuing resolution being finalized between the Congress and the White House.

These recent victories were the result of nearly 18 years of effort by countless local citizens, federal and local officials, the West Virginia congressional delegation and those who love scenery and history from around the world.

However, as the new law and money stimulate negotiations among willing sellers and a network of preservation groups, a number of people are raising questions about the true value of the national park to the community. In recent weeks, missives posted on various local Web sites and comments made at public hearings have drawn attention to a general lack of knowledge regarding the true worth of the national park.


The most important benefit of the park is the continued existence of the towns of Harpers Ferry, W.Va., and Sandy Hook. Had Harpers Ferry National Monument not been proposed in 1936 and established in law on June 30, 1944, a major flood control dam would have been constructed where U.S. 340 crosses the Potomac.

The resulting 150-200 foot rise in the river level would have placed everything below Clay Street in Harpers Ferry and all of Sandy Hook under water.

On May 29, 1963, Harpers Ferry National Monument formally became Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. West Virginia Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jennings Randolph garnered federal funds to develop the new park. They also leveraged the existence of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park to fund vital community services.

In fiscal years 1979 and 1980, the town of Harpers Ferry became the only independent community in America to have its police force directly established and funded by the United States Government (Public Laws 95-465 & 95-126). This direct funding became an annual federal commitment within the park's budget to underwrite a portion of local police operations for Harpers Ferry. This has totaled $2,265,100 through fiscal 2004. The park has provided another $44,000 to Friendship Fire Co. over the past 14 years.

Starting in fiscal year 1976 and continuing through fiscal year 1988, the National Park Service played a significant role in helping fund and manage a series of projects totaling $2,607,715 to systematically rebuild the Harpers Ferry-Bolivar sewer and water systems. Prior to 1976, the town of Harpers Ferry had resorted to deploying the National Guard to distribute water via tanker trucks to meet the basic needs of many of its citizens. With the $307,715 funding of a third water tank on Bolivar Heights by the NPS, fire insurance rates for the towns of Harpers Ferry and Bolivar were reduced.

Currently, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park spends approximately $876,400 a year for goods and services. This includes payments to the police department, Friendship Fire Co., public service district and water department.

Much of the balance is spent on purchases from local Harpers Ferry businesses. Another $6,278,500 is being spent annually on capital improvements, most of which goes to local contractors and crafts people.

The 337 full-time park service employees of the seven federal units headquartered in Harpers Ferry, many of who live locally, individually purchase food and other goods from local merchants. This is in addition to the $12.2 million in total direct spending by visitors to the park each year. The park is among the largest employers in Jefferson County.

At a recent national meeting of 1,700 Main Street organizations, attendees heard the story of how Harpers Ferry National Historical Park spends millions of dollars each year to develop and maintain internationally known tourist attractions that bring 275,000-plus visitors to within two blocks of local shops. "My God." exclaimed one attendee, "we would give our right arm for a fraction of that." When told that some locals wished that the park didn't exist, the attendee commented, "They don't know how lucky they are."

Scot M. Faulkner is president of the Friends of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

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