Harpers Ferry park superintendent retiring after nearly three decades

June 16, 2008|By DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - He's been credited with forging partnerships to help Harpers Ferry National Historical Park expand by hundreds of acres and overseeing major events at the park, like the 100th anniversary of the Niagara Movement, a meeting of black leaders in 1906 which became the foundation of the NAACP.

Murphy's Farm, a 99-acre School House Ridge tract rich in Civil War and civil rights history, was saved from development during Don Campbell's tenure and he is being praised for other projects, like the restoration of the Harpers Ferry Train Station.

After 29 years as the superintendent of the local national park, Campbell has decided to retire.

Campbell, 65, said in an interview Sunday that he could have retired 11 years ago but he wanted to stay to oversee projects like expanding the park by 1,240 acres and acquiring Murphy's Farm.

Campbell, who will retire July 3, said he believes enough land has been acquired by the park to save historical significant areas.


"I leave fulfilled. It's been a good ride," Campbell said.

Campbell was born in Napa, Calif. After college, he became a park planner in Yellowstone National Park in 1972.

Campbell later went to Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park in Skagway, Alaska, where he worked to acquire lands for the park.

Campbell took many National Park Service jobs in Alaska before going to work in the National Park Service's Washington, D.C., office in 1978.

While in Washington, Campbell worked on policy issues for the park service and said his experience dealing with Congress gave him great insight on how to lead park systems.

"I remember jumping around from office to office and burning the midnight oil. I tried to learn everything I could about Congress and the office," Campbell said.

A year later, Campbell realized his goal of becoming superintendent of a national park when he was chosen to run Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, 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.

Campbell said when he came to the park, there had been significant turmoil there, which was marked by eight acting superintendents.

Now, after Campbell's tenure, local officials talk about respect, good relationships and results from the superintendent's office.

Harpers Ferry Mayor Jim Addy said Campbell has been good to work with on issues like parking, and Addy praised the park's work on projects like the Niagara Movement anniversary.

"He's really been a fixture nationally and locally. He's done so much to bring attention to our community. It's just a terrific career," Jefferson County Commissioner Rusty Morgan said.

"It's hard to believe he's retiring, really. I think of him as a young man," Morgan said.

Paul Rosa, executive director of the Harpers Ferry Conservancy, said the public-private partnerships Campbell built to acquire land for the park were impressive.

"You could see the results in the amount of land that was saved," Rosa said.

When 1,240 acres were added to the park in 2004, its holdings jumped to 3,745 acres. Among the areas saved was land in the School House Ridge area along U.S. 340 between Charles Town, W.Va., and Harpers Ferry.

School House Ridge 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.

Campbell said other highlights of his career at Harpers Ferry was establishing a shuttle bus system for visitors, welcoming dignitaries like former President Bill Clinton, Al Gore and Nancy Reagan, and dealing with three major floods at the park, which is at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers.

Campbell said park staff have perfected flood recovery, being able to open the park within days after major floods.

Campbell thanked people like U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., local elected officials, public and private partners and "my wonderful staff" that made "this beautiful park as we see it today."

Campbell said he and his wife, Sandy, plan to stay in the Shepherdstown, W.Va., area where they live and enjoy time with their children and grandchildren. They also plan to visit national parks they love.

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