HARPERS FERRY – Look for the reopening of the damaged pedestrian walkway across the Potomac River in the Lower Town of Harpers Ferry to come in late summer at the earliest.
That’s the message Harpers Ferry Mayor Wayne Bishop delivered when he appeared last week before the Jefferson County Commission. “The park service is talking about, at best right now, six months before that bridge is repaired and reopened,” he said.
Seven freight cars derailed and destroyed part of the walkway on Dec. 21 while a CSX train crossed a railroad bridge spanning the Potomac River. The bridge quickly reopened, but about a third of the walkway attached to the bridge was pulled down during the derailment.
Bishop said National Park Service officials recently said replacing and reopening the bridge will take six months or longer. “They move rather methodically with their decisions that they make,” he said of the federal bureaucracy governing the park service. “We’re pushing that. It’s a huge issue that we’re faced with right now.”
Part of the Appalachian Trail that runs through the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, the walkway is a link for walkers, hikers and cyclists to Maryland Heights, the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal towpath and the Appalachian Trail on the Maryland side of the Potomac. Several restaurants, retail shops and bed and breakfast lodgings in Harpers Ferry and Bolivar rely on tourists drawn to those scenic attractions.
“It’s not just a quality of life issue for all of us in Jefferson County who go to the park to cross that river and enjoy the other parks on the other side, but it’s a huge financial driver for us in Harpers Ferry,” Bishop said of fixing the walkway.
CSX representatives said the company will pay the National Park Service to reconstruct the walkway. However, last month Tyrone Brandyburg, superintendent of the Harpers Ferry National Park, warned that the federal government’s slow decision making could prevent the bridge from opening again before the town’s peak tourist season begins this spring.
Potentially delaying the walkway’s reconstruction, was that officials from the three separate national parks associated with the walkway would likely be involved in reviews and approvals.