- The Washington Times - Friday, January 7, 2005

Things were going from bad to worse for Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. In March 1987, the park was under assault from all sides. Homeowners were clearing trees across the park’s boundaries to gain better views. A 160-foot-tall cable-television tower was being proposed for the top of Bolivar Heights — as obtrusive as the infamous Gettysburg tower.

On March 12 of that year, a group of developers, armed with a highly creative plat map and willing local officials, carved a 35-foot-wide swath from the Harpers Ferry water tanks across parkland down to a proposed 180-house development in the middle of the battlefield.

Something had to be done. Harpers Ferry Park enjoyed some of the best scenic views in the Mid-Atlantic region, but it also was in the path of people seeking cheap housing close to a commuter train and to the booming Dulles technology corridor. What followed was one of the longest journeys of an established national park to preserve key sites that shaped American, and in some cases world, history.

The 17-year effort to expand the boundary and acreage of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park successfully concluded with the passage ofa bill Sept. 13. Fittingly, this was the 142nd anniversary of Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s famous siege of the town.

The protected lands are to the story of Harpers Ferry what Seminary Ridge is to Gettysburg. The land is integral to telling the full story of the pivotal 1862 siege that set the stage for America’s bloodiest day, at Antietam on Sept. 17, and, subsequently, the Emancipation Proclamation, which reshaped the nature of the Civil War.

This endpoint was nowhere in sight in 1987. That spring, four persons formed a close alliance and friendship that would guide the preservation effort through the nearly two-decade effort. Don Campbell was the park superintendent. His long tenure would provide the necessary continuity.

Dennis Frye was the park historian. As one of the nation’s leading authorities on Jackson, he would provide the ongoing intellectual firepower, through a variety of public and private positions, to underscore the importance of the effort to a national audience.

Brad Nash had served 12 years as mayor of Harpers Ferry, a West Virginia town adjacent to Maryland and Virginia, and had been instrumental in turning the battlefield into a national park in the 1950s. It had started as a national monument in June 1944. Mr. Nash, a lifelong Republican who had served Presidents Coolidge, Hoover and Eisenhower, had a gift for establishing alliances. He had forged close relationships with West Virginia’s powerful Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jennings Randolph. His access and insights would open doors at key junctures.

The final member of the foursome was Scot Faulkner, a Reagan administration official with a deep commitment to history and who had just moved to the area. It was Mr. Faulkner’s mix of strategic and creative thinking that would identify the pathways to success, at times against impossible odds.

The foursome held various meetings, including sharing an occasional “bourbon and branch” at Mr. Nash’s farm. They developed a three-pronged plan. First, stop the current threats to the park and develop ways to identify and blunt future threats.

Second, raise the awareness of local citizens and officials about the historic importance of Harpers Ferry. This was a tall order. The president of the Jefferson County Commission had dismissively proclaimed that history was being “made up” to stop subdivisions. “You need to get it through your heads — nothing happened here.”

Third, the park had to acquire land to preserve the area’s history. This meant boundary legislation. Mr. Byrd, a longtime patron of the park, was uneasy about federal acquisition in the face of local opposition. Through Mr. Nash, Mr. Byrd made it clear that he would support legislation only if there were a local consensus.

The foursome decided that the park needed a “provisional wing” that could be an advocate for shaping community support. Mr. Nash and Mr. Faulkner formed Friends of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, the officially recognized “friends” group for the park. By early 1988, closing off water access had stopped the development. Lengthy negotiations and Federal Communications Commission filings shrank the cable tower below the tree line.

These first victories laid the groundwork for the years ahead. The Friends, along with a growing number of local activists, blocked numerous developments and steered landowners to preservation land trusts. Thus, land was acquired that, in turn, was absorbed into the park. As the park reached its authorized acreage ceiling, this network of private organizations and interagency agreements created a reserve of 949 acres outside the park’s boundaries.

The drive to build community support paralleled the drive to preserve land. There were a special boundary study in 1989; a successful 50th-anniversary celebration in 1994; an award-winning educational program for local schools; and, ultimately, a 2002 community outreach, which documented 94 percent community support for park expansion.

Legislation for expanding the park was introduced by Mr. Byrd and Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, West Virginia Republican, in 2003.

Mr. Nash, who died in 1997, is probably sipping a celebratory bourbon and branch.

James W. Hunter is a businessman living in Jefferson County, W.Va. He and his family have been active in local preservation causes and organizations, including Friends of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

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