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Harpers Ferry Parking

David Cottingham | Published on 3/25/2022

Link to letter:  Harpers Ferry Parking

February 26, 2022

Superintendent Tyrone Brandyburg
Attn: Proposal to close Maryland Heights parking areas
Harpers Ferry National Historical Park
P.O. Box 65
Harpers Ferry, WV 25425

Submitted electronically

Dear Superintendent Brandyburg,

The Canoe Cruisers Association (CCA) is distressed to learn that the National Park Service (NPS), in response to increased need for access to natural resources in and around Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, is considering further limiting access by the public by closing heavily used parking areas.

While Harpers Ferry and C&O Canal are National Historical Parks, a significant percentage of
visitors use the National Parks for access to natural areas: to hike, to walk and bike the towpath, to canoe, kayak, raft, and tube in the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, to sunbathe, fish, birdwatch, or just to be in nature. Since the 1970s, the Parks have systematically closed parking areas or restricted uses to commercial operators. Potoma Wayside, which used to be a parking area for private vehicles, has had parking reduced to three spaces and is now largely a commercial use area. Lock 34 and nearby areas along Harpers Ferry Rd, former whitewater access points, have been closed to private parking. There is no public access to either river upstream of Harpers Ferry. Downstream access at Sandy Hook and Weverton is now closed or threatened by CSX.

The National Park Service Rivers and Trails Conservation Assistance Program (RTCA) sponsored and supported a community-based discussion in 2014 and 2015 to improve river access and parking in the vicinity of Harper’s Ferry. Four NPS units actively participated in the discussion along with CCA, local commercial outfitters, and private boaters. American Whitewater issued a report of the discussions in 2015. The NPS virtually controls access to the Potomac on the Maryland side via management of the C&O Canal National Historical Park. Since 2015, little has happened to improve recreational access to the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers for boaters, fishermen, tubers, sunbathers, and the overall public.

There is a clear need for better, safer access to the natural areas of the National Parks in the Harpers Ferry region. Park use will continue to increase. Traffic on related roads is likely to increase. The NPS is the dominant landowner in Harpers Ferry. Clearly, it must be part of developing long-term solutions to the problems of public access in Harper’s Ferry and along the C&O Canal.

We ask that you:

- Reopen discussions on meeting the public recreational access needs to the outstanding
  natural resources of the National Parks in the Harpers Ferry region.
- Work with state and local officials and the public to develop a plan for adequate parking or
  access that will be safe and will not adversely affect the historic or natural resources.
- Implement the plan over a reasonable time frame.
- Reopen the parking areas at the Maryland Heights trail access until a more suitable solution
  to parking issues is implemented.

I submit these comments on behalf of the Canoe Cruisers Association of Greater Washington
(CCA). CCA is the region’s oldest canoeing and kayaking organization. Our members regularly
paddle on the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers near Harper’s Ferry and elsewhere. Access to rivers is paramount to our recreational activities. We need safe parking facilities where we can leave vehicles while we are on the water.

We understand the complications of the effort we are asking you to undertake Simply coordinating among various NPS units appears challenging to outsiders. But these parks, these rivers, these cliffs are going to be here a century from now, visited and treasured by millions of people. We owe it to those natural resources and ourselves to address the access issues that have been languishing for decades. CCA and others in whitewater boating community stand willing to participate and assist in any way we can.

Thank you,

David Cottingham
Chair, Canoe Cruisers Association

Ms. Kym Hall, Area Director, National Capital Area
Ms. Tammy Stidham, National Capital Area
Ms. Tina Cappetta, Superintendent, C&O Canal National Historical Park