Visitors center location called a disgrace by director

February 21, 2005|by DAVE McMILLION

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. - The director of the Jefferson County Convention and Visitors Bureau said it is a "disgrace" that the center operates out of a trailer.

It reinforces stereotypes of the area, like people who have homes with "refrigerators on the front porch," Paulette Sprinkle, the bureau's director, told the Jefferson County Commission last week.

Nearly three years ago, the visitors center operated by the local agency moved into the trailer along U.S. 340 across from an entrance to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park along Bolivar Heights, Sprinkle said.


The visitors center, which has been operated by the bureau or the state over the years, ended up in the trailer after it was moved out of a privately owned building behind the trailer, Sprinkle said.

The visitors center was moved out of the A-frame building after rent on the building went from $150 to $300, state tourism officials said at the time.

Other issues that led to the decision to stop operating the center in the other building included a lack of handicapped accessibility and lack of a fire escape, officials said at the time.

In 2002, the Jefferson County Commission tried to purchase the building from owner Victoria Drumheller, but Drumheller turned down the county's offer.

The commissioners were hoping to buy the building and turn it over to the Jefferson County Convention and Visitors Bureau to operate as a visitors center.

Sprinkle hopes this year a plan will be formulated for a new location for the visitors center on the property.

Although Drumheller owns the former visitors center building, the state Division of Highways owns the land.

The original visitors center was constructed on the property with the idea that part of the space in the structure would be leased for the visitors center, Sprinkle said.

"We just want a permanent facility that can be fixed up nicely and get out of that trailer," Sprinkle said.

"We've got to get something finalized," Ronnie Marcus, president of the Jefferson County Convention and Visitors Bureau, told the commissioners last Thursday.

Drumheller said Sunday she is hopeful an agreement can be worked out between her and the state Division of Highways.

Drumheller said she is scheduled to meet with the state in a mediation session March 1 to talk about the issue.

Drumheller said she believes one possible solution might be an offer from the state to buy the building from her.

"We're certainly open-minded," Drumheller said.

The intersection where the visitors center sits is a busy area, and is an ideal spot to promote local tourism, officials have said.

Sprinkle said about 100,000 people a year go into the trailer seeking information about attractions in the region, and sometimes as many as 800 people a day might go through the trailer.

"It can get pretty crowded sometimes," Sprinkle said.

Sprinkle and Marcus discussed the plight of the visitors center and other issues with the commissioners.

The cost to establish a new visitors center is unknown because the cost will be determined by the arrangement between the state and Drumheller, Sprinkle said.

Sprinkle said the Jefferson County Convention and Visitors Bureau is asking for political and financial support from the commissioners, although a dollar amount has not been finalized.

County Commissioner Dale Manuel said he is eager to get the visitors center into a new location.

The visitors bureau has obtained $107,000 through grants. The state is applying for an additional $169,000 in federal funding, Sprinkle said.

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