Science center, park in line for federal funds

June 21, 2007|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Harpers Ferry National Historical Park's visitors center wasn't designed to be a visitors center at all, and according to Park Superintendent Donald Campbell it could be the smallest of any such facility in the nation's park system.

"It's just undersized and over-utilized," Campbell said Wednesday, a few hours after staff for U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., announced that $1.35 million for expanding the facility was included in a spending bill approved by a Senate Appropriations subcommittee.

Part of the money, if approved, is expected to pay for new park signs and ongoing archeological work where the U.S. Armory once stood along the Potomac River, Campbell said.

Byrd's announcement, released by spokesman John Bray, also included $1 million for the Leetown Science Center in Jefferson County.

Bray said subcommittee approval was an "essential first step" in Byrd's effort to deliver the funding for the projects, and he indicated that the Appropriations Committee was expected to vote on the 2008 fiscal year funding bill today. Members of the committee that Byrd chairs were working to get all 12 appropriation bills to President Bush's desk by Oct. 1, Bray said.


"Harpers Ferry National Historical Park is an educational and recreational jewel for West Virginians and visitors alike," Byrd said in a news release. "The funds in this bill will help to strengthen the park for future generations."

If given final approval, the bill would allow park officials to begin the design and construction planning process for expanding the visitors center at Cavalier Heights, Campbell said. Money still is needed for construction, he said.

Envisioned to be four times larger than the current center, Campbell said park officials hope to replace inadequate bathroom facilities, add exhibit and picnic areas, a book shop and an auditorium, which visitors centers at nearby battlefield parks in Virginia and Maryland already have, Campbell said.

"I believe we have the smallest visitors center in the national park system," Campbell said.

The auditorium also would provide a place for rangers to continue programming for the thousands of students who visit during inclement weather, needed space the park does not have, Campbell said.

New signs will replace outdated markers, and Campbell said he intends to work with town leaders of Harpers Ferry and Bolivar, W.Va., to make that happen.

Campbell said work has begun to develop new trails along what is known as Schoolhouse Ridge and the Murphy Farm, areas recently annexed into the park.

Directional signs and exhibits where the U.S. Armory founded by George Washington in 1796 once stood along the Potomac River are hopefully in the works for next year, Campbell said.

A portion of the pending funding will pay for archeological work in the upper portion of the Armory grounds, west of the recently restored train station, Campbell said. Work east of the station is being completed, he added.

"It will be a nice complement to the train station," Campbell said.

The $1 million investment in the Leetown Science Center would support research related to the Potomac River watershed, and to continue biology and genetics work at the lab, Byrd said.

"Scientists at the Leetown Science Center, which is the nation's oldest federal fishery research facility, conduct important research to detect, control, and prevent diseases, to restore the ecologies of threatened and endangered species, and to develop new habitats in response to problems caused by various disturbances of aquatic communities," Byrd explained.

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