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Shepherdstown hopes to turn riverfront into tourism draw

October 28, 2009|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. -- Shepherdstown officials said Wednesday they plan to work with the National Park Service to proactively promote recreation along their slice of the Potomac River by revitalizing key riverfront properties.

Shepherdstown is home to several historic sites with the potential to make it a national tourism treasure, officials said during a morning news conference.

By drafting a unified plan for improving and preserving select sites, the town hopes to maximize the scenic, recreational and historic potential of Thomas Shepherd's town.

The town hosted the news conference to announce its partnership with the National Park Service and the Rotary Club of Shepherdstown.

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The town council applied in late July to the National Park Service's Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program (RTCA) for technical and logistical aid on the project.

In its application to the National Park Service, the town identified nine key areas of interest along the river: Shepherd University, the Rumsey Monument, Cullison Park, Bones Wright Lane, the Town Run, Mecklenburg Tobacco Warehouse circa 1788, the boat ramp, the Rumsey Bridge and the C&O Canal in Maryland.

With the Rotary as liaison, the groups will draft a master plan that details key points of interest that should entice new partners into the project while opening the door to public and private funding, said Councilman Howard Mills, chairman of the parks and recreation committee.

Exactly which historical sites will be revitalized, when it will happen, what will be done and how it will come about have yet to be determined, said Christopher Niewold, National Capital Region program manager for the National Park Service RTCA.

A timeline for the project and an estimated cost also are unknown, he said.

Niewold said the first phase of the project is planning. Shepherdstown is just beginning that phase, which could take about a year.

Since 2003, Friends of the Shepherdstown Riverfront has spearheaded efforts to rehabilitate key points of interest along the river, Mills said.

Because efforts varied and were handled by several community groups, revitalization funding has been hard to find, Mills and Shepherdstown Mayor Jim Auxer said in a letter supporting the project.

A unified plan should be the key to unlocking the money, Niewold said.

"Shepherdstown has an amazing array of recreational resources," he said. "It is rare to find funding (for revitalization) without a tangible plan."

He said similar plans in communities across the United States have been vehicles for future economic growth.

Lois Turco, president of the Washington's Way West National Heritage Area Alliance, said initiatives along the C&O Canal and near national parks have enjoyed great success, drawing thousands in a single day from across the nation.

With popular tourism neighbors such as Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg and the C&O Canal National Historical Park as well as ties to former Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, Turco said Shepherdstown could become one of the most visited places in the country when the project is completed. Jefferson County is named for Thomas Jefferson, and the county seat, Charles Town, is named for George Washington's brother, Charles Washington.

Auxer said representatives from the three partners met Wednesday after the news conference to begin work on the plan.

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