July 2002: Harpers Ferry National Historic Park


Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

No place in America packs as much scenic wonder and historical importance into such a small area as Harpers Ferry National Historic Park where the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers join forces. George Washington surveyed here as a young man. Thomas Jefferson hailed the confluence as "one of the most stupendous scenes in Nature" and declared it worth a trip across the Atlantic Ocean just to see. Meriwether Lewis prepared for the Corps of Discovery in 1804 by gathering supplies of arms and military stores at Harpers Ferry. A United States Marine Colonel named Robert E. Lee captured abolitionist John Brown at Harpers Ferry when he attempted to raid the United States Arsenal and arm a slave insurrection. General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson scored one of his greatest military victories here during the Civil War.
Congress appropriated funds for a national monument in Harpers Ferry in 1944 and 2,300 acres of Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia were interwoven into the National Historic Park in 1963.

Dogs are welcome in Harpers Ferry National Historic Park and hikes are available for every taste and fitness level. On the Maryland side of the Potomac River is the towpath for the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, which was completed in 1850 as a 184.5 mile transportation link between Washington D.C. and Cumberland, Maryland. The trail is wide, flat and mostly dirt.
Beside the canal, the Maryland Heights rise dramatically 1,448 feet above the rivers. The Stone Fort Trail up the Heights is the area's most strenuous hike and one of the most historic. With the outbreak of the Civil War, the Union Army sought to fortify the strategic Maryland Heights with its commanding views of the waters and busy railroad lines below. The roads leading to the summit were remembered by Union soldiers as "very rocky, steep and crooked and barely wide enough for those wagons." Wayside exhibits help hikers appreciate the effort involved in dragging guns, mortar and cannon up the mountainside. One 9-inch Dahlgren gun capable of lobbing 100-pound shells weighed 9,700 pounds. The trail leads to the remnants of the Stone Fort which straddles the crest of Maryland Heights at its highest elevation. 
Access to Lower Town in Harpers Ferry is by National Park Service shuttle bus from the visitor center. Dog owners can best access this area by driving to the Maryland Heights for parking and walking across the Potomac River. The bridge features open grating that can intimidate skittish dogs not familiar with grates.
On the other side of the town of Harpers Ferry in West Virginia, along the Shenandoah River, is Virginus Island and the ruins of a thriving industrial town that finally succumbed to flooding in 1889. The trails that weave through the ruins are flat and shady and connect to the trails in historic Lower Town, where John Brown barricaded himself in the town's fire engine house and battled Federal troops. Climbing up the steep grade out of Lower Town is a short trail to Jefferson Rock, where Thomas Jefferson recorded his impressions in 1783. Also available in the West Virginia section of the park is the Bolivar Heights Trail over wooded terrain on the site of Jackson's triumphal Civil War battle.
On the Virginia side of the Potomac River are the heavily forested Loudon Heights. Mountainside trails here lead to the Appalachian Trail and there is several hours of hiking in this area of the park.

A branch off the Stone Fort Trail winds down to the Overlook Cliffs, perched directly above the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. The best view of Harpers Ferry is from these rock outcroppings where it is easy to understand the town's importance to transportation in Colonial America, its value to the jockeying of battling armies in the Civil War and its susceptability to crippling floods. There are no protective fences and dogs should be watched carefully on the open rocks at the Overlook Cliffs.

Antietam National Battlefield (SR 34/65, Sharpsburg, Maryland). Emboldened by early successes, Robert E. Lee decided to make his first invasion of the North in the Civil War at the crossroads town of Sharpsburg. On September 17, 1862, the bloodiest day in American history, over 23,000 men were killed or wounded as Lee was forced to withdraw. The battlefield grounds are open to dogs and several miles of dirt trails along Antietam Creek are available, including across such hallowed ground as the Sunken Road and the Stone Bridge.

Harpers Ferry National Historic Park is located on Route 340, twenty miles south of I-270 in Frederick, Maryland.