Harpers Ferry NHS: Plan Your Visit!

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
The Lower Town of Harpers Ferry, as seen from Maryland Heights. Photo by Cody Lopez

Many people don’t know that the United States federal government recently launched a special initiative called “Find Your Park.” On my recent visit to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, West Virginia, some rangers and volunteers graciously agreed to answer some questions about the park and the campaign.

Potomac River
View of the valley from one of the many hiking trails in Harpers Ferry

For those who haven’t heard, what is the Find Your Park campaign all about?

It’s about stimulating interest in America’s national parks, historic sites, and natural places, and it’s tied to the park system’s Centennial Goal to create a new generation of visitors who will appreciate and preserve national parks.

What prompted the launch of the campaign?

The celebration of the National Park Service Centennial. It encourages everyone to celebrate and enjoy the parks.

Do any groups get special entry discounts as part of the campaign?

There’s a separate but simultaneous initiative called “Every Kid in a Park.” Starting September 1, 2015, fourth-grade students can sign up to receive a pass that will get them and their accompanying families into national parks for free.

Shenandoah Street
Shenandoah Street in the Lower Town, near the former site of a U.S. arsenal (field, left)

Are there any groups that regularly get entry discounts, regardless of the campaign?

There are several on the national level. Senior citizens can purchase a Senior Pass for $10. That’ll get them into any national park for free for life. Even if they only visit one of the larger parks, it pays for itself. Military Personnel and their dependents can get a free pass that allows free admission to national parks for one year. Citizens and permanent residents with disabilities can get a free lifetime pass that will get them into national parks free-of-charge. Finally, National Park Service volunteers who help 250 or more annual hours can receive a free admittance pass good for one year.

More specific to this park, what is attractive for people to come to Harpers Ferry?

There’s so much here. We have over 250 years of recorded history on multiple topics that we present from multiple perspectives. We also cherish and protect local nature and wildlife. There’s a protected wetlands, which gives visitors a rare look at animals that aren’t common in other places.

John Brown's Fort
The old armory firehouse, where John Brown and his men holed up during their 1859 raid

What areas of history can visitors explore at Harpers Ferry?

We present six major themes here: Natural Heritage, which is local geology, botany, and nature; Industry, because Harpers Ferry was home to an United States armory and arsenal, as well as a rifle factory and numerous other factories; Transportation, since railroads and canals meet here; John Brown, which focuses on his life and the 1859 raid; the American Civil War, when the town was fought over; and African American history, because the town was home to Storer College and a stop on the Underground Railroad.

For people who are less interested in history, what is there to do at Harpers Ferry?

There are about 30 miles of hiking trails, including a section of the Appalachian Trail. You’ll also see a lot of nature here. Most of the town isn’t part of the national park, so there are shops and restaurants just up the street. Companies outside of town provide water recreation on the rivers, and visitors may bring their own equipment or rent from companies nearby.

Snowy Harpers Ferry
Snow dusts the Lower Town and nearby mountains. Photo by Cody Lopez

What is your favorite thing about Harpers Ferry?

The scenery. In my biased opinion, it looks great year-round, and it’s especially beautiful in the winter.

On a more general note, why do you think people should care about national parks?

National parks strive to preserve history and historical sites as well as natural heritage sites. The National Park Service also enriches people by educating them about the value of those things. Without places that preserve the past, we can’t learn from them. If we care for them, people can go there to reflect, appreciate, ponder, and commemorate. They can use those locations to help themselves decide how they feel about parts of the past.

John Brown artifacts
A pike and two carbines used during John Brown’s 1859 raid

Finally, is there anything else you feel like people should know?

Harpers Ferry is more than just the old, quaint Lower Town by the two rivers. Harpers Ferry was a leader in the American Industrial Revolution—not a lot of people know that. It was the site of the John Brown Raid. It was home to Storer College, an educational institution founded in 1867 that was open to all sexes and races, making it one of America’s first institutions open to African Americans. It’s also a battleground and strategic location that changed hands eight times during the Civil War!

For more information on the Find Your Park campaign, click here or use the link under “Other Links.” You can sign up your fourth-grader for Every Kid in a Park here. Information about national park discounts mentioned in this post can be found here.

Potomac River
View of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers from Harpers Ferry

Now, get out there and visit a park near you!

Special thanks go to the staff and volunteers at Harpers Ferry National Historic Park for permitting and agreeing to this interview.

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