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Manchin dedicates Appalachian Trail upgrades

June 11, 2009|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. -- West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin spoke from a podium at "The Point," the exact place where, below, two of America's most famous rivers -- the Potomac and Shenandoah -- were coming together in a collision of silty waters swollen by recent rains.

Groups of colored rafts from nearby outfitters carrying adventurers could be seen behind Manchin as he was, at that moment, promoting the dramatic beauty of the Harpers Ferry area as a mecca for money-dropping tourists.

Manchin spoke of the unique "vortex" of the area, where attractions include Harpers Ferry National Historical Park; the Appalachian Trail, which ends its 25-mile run in West Virginia through the park; and C&O Canal National Historical Park, directly across the Potomac River in Washington County.

Manchin, speaking of the importance of investing in West Virginia's 48 state parks, read a proclamation citing June as "Great Outdoors Month" in West Virginia.

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Manchin came to Harpers Ferry to dedicate about $57,000 worth of state-funded improvements to the Appalachian Trail, which winds through the park.

Brian King, spokesman for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, said the state grant paid for new signs that tell Appalachian Trail hikers they are in Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. A new network of signs and white Appalachian Trail markers help direct hikers through the park's labyrinth of narrow streets and hills.

David Startzell, executive director of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, said part of the grant money also paid for a short relocation of the trail through the park.

"It's a more direct route," Startzell said. "Hikers were getting disoriented in the town."

A major component benefiting from the grant was the construction of a new side trail off the main Appalachian Trail to lead hikers to the conservancy's headquarters at 799 Washington St. in Harpers Ferry.

That trail, built down a steep hill, was constructed of heavy stones. It took more than 75 volunteers more than 1,900 hours to build the trail, said Steve Paradis, chief operating officer for the conservancy.

Hikers enter Harpers Ferry from Virginia over Loudoun Heights. A footbridge that abuts the railroad bridge across the Potomac River between West Virginia and Maryland delivers them from the park onto the C&O Canal and from there back onto the Appalachian Trail at Weverton Cliffs.

The Appalachian Trail then winds its way for 40 miles along the Washington/Frederick county line into Pennsylvania.

Manchin cut a ribbon to officially unveil a new sign near the bridge that tells hikers, depending on which way they're heading, the trail ends 1,013 miles south in Georgia and 1,165 miles north in Maine.

Earlier in the day, Manchin signed an executive order that officially recognizes Berkeley, Hampshire, Jefferson and Morgan counties as the Western Potomac Economic Partnership (West-PEP).

"This will enable local governments to work together, as a region, to promote economic development opportunities, while highlighting our state's many benefits, like a low cost of living, natural beauty, nice people and a low crime rate," Manchin said in a press release.

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