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Harpers Ferry Access Study Reveals Need for New Approaches (MD/WV)

Posted: 08/21/2019
by Kevin Colburn

The final Weverton Rail Crossing Feasibility Study was released this week, which considered two options for improving the crossing of CSX railroad tracks to provide safer public access to the Potomac River and the C&O Canal National Historical Park, and for use of the Appalachian Trail. The Report reveals insurmountable problems with the two proposed access solutions, but also highlights other possible paths forward. 

The Report considered two alternatives in detail. The first would be a simple voluntary at-grade pedestrian crossing with signals. Such crossings are ubiquitous nationwide and are a relatively low cost and small-footprint solution. CSX asserted constraints in reaction to this alternative that render it impractical if not impossible as a voluntary measure. The second alternative would build a costly pedestrian bridge over the tracks. The National Park Service has expressed significant concerns regarding the visual impacts of this option. So in essence, each key stakeholder is opposed to one of the two alternatives. 

There are some bright spots in the Report though. It outlines in detail the large amount of use and incredible importance of this crossing for paddlers, other river enthusiasts, and Appalachian Trail hikers (it is the AT). This validates the findings of the Harpers Ferry River Access Plan that American Whitewater helped to produce, and documents the need for river access in the area. Most importantly, the Report highlights discrepancies in property ownership and rights-of-way, the resolution of which could confirm that Weverton is already a public railroad crossing. Lastly, the Report offers potential grant funding programs that could be used to fund a solution to this significant issue. 

The Harpers Ferry area is an important take-out for extremely popular and beautiful sections of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers, yet there are only 3 public parking spaces provided for paddlers. Various NPS and CSX decisions have severely limited public access in this area in recent years. The primary cause of the problem is an NPS prohibition on taking out at the confluence of the two great rivers in Harpers Ferry where it makes the most sense. We hope that the NPS will consider lifting this prohibition given the conclusions and analysis in this Report. We also hope that Weverton be confirmed as a public crossing through additional research. American Whitewater will continue working with regional stakeholders to move both of these potential solutions forward. 

We would like to thank the Hagerstown/Eastern Panhandle Metropolitan Area Planning Organization for their excellent and forthright work on the Report.

Kevin Colburn
Asheville, NC

Associated Projects

Harpers Ferry River Access (WV/VA/MD)
A collaborative effort to identify and deliver on opportunities to enhance river access on the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers near Harpers Ferry, WV.

Associated Rivers