West Virginia Shop Owner Wants Congress to Invest in National Park Repairs

Her photos show allure of Harpers Ferry, where businesses await visitors’ return to historical site

West Virginia Shop Owner Wants Congress to Invest in National Park Repairs
Harpers Ferry
A sunset frames a triad of cannons in Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.
Cindi Dunn

Small-business owner Cindi Dunn is in her 17th year of running The Vintage Lady near the doorstep of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. The jewelry maker and photographer sells her own creations and the handiwork of other West Virginia artisans at her downtown shop. Dunn and fellow business owners in the community depend on visitors who come to the National Park Service (NPS) site that extends into Maryland and Virginia. The park has more than $10 million worth of overdue repairs, part of nearly $12 billion in deferred maintenance throughout the national park system. Dunn shared some of her photos with The Pew Charitable Trusts, as well as thoughts on what she loves about the park and why it’s important to address the backlogged repairs there. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Q:  How important is Harpers Ferry National Historical Park to you?

Harpers Ferry
Cindi Dunn

A: Harpers Ferry is one of the most beautiful places on Earth! The national park brings it all together by preserving not only the buildings but the land as well. I spent some time with an elderly lady once who grew up in Harpers Ferry and she shared with me what it was like then. Had the National Park Service not preserved the area, there would be little for anyone to see and enjoy. I always say Harpers Ferry has it all—history, rivers, hiking, and a quaint town of shops, lodging, and dining. The park service provides the historical experience for the visitors that the town would not be able to offer. They provide parking and maintenance along with facilities. It’s a valuable relationship that allows for the most amazing experience for all who visit.

Q: You have a passion for photography. What’s your favorite thing to photograph in Harpers Ferry?

A: Without a doubt—my favorite thing to photograph is the steeple of St. Peter’s church. It follows you wherever you go in Harpers Ferry, and I find great comfort in that. I bet I have taken a million photos of it—and yet still, I take more, and they continually make my heart flutter.

Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected Harpers Ferry’s small businesses?

A: As with small businesses throughout this country, we have been hit hard—maybe a bit harder as we are primarily a tourist destination. Also, as positive as it is to be as close as we are to a national park, we are also dependent on them for restrooms, transportation, and parking.

Q: What are you hoping for as tourism returns to the region?

A: I’m hopeful that as things begin reopening, people will again visit Harpers Ferry, but I am concerned that business will look very different. The streets and buildings here are very old and do not lend themselves well to social distancing. I’m confident, however, that we will all rise to the restrictions and find creative ways to allow customers to have a wonderful experience.

Q: Harpers Ferry has millions of dollars in deferred maintenance, including repairs to buildings. Why is it important that Congress invest in those repairs?

A: As any homeowner will tell you, maintaining your property is vital, and the park properties are no different. These buildings and the surrounding lands represent our history, our heritage. They house artifacts that tell the story of our great country. The park is challenged to keep these properties maintained to continue to tell this story for generations to come. The story of John Brown, the beautiful views from Maryland Heights, the overlook of the Murphy Farm are all just as important as the stories that will be told about this pandemic.

Harpers Ferry
Harper's Ferry
Article

Bills in Congress Could Preserve Sites at Historic Harpers Ferry

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Article

Bills in Congress Could Preserve Sites at Historic Harpers Ferry

West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland come together at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, a heavily forested spot known for its spectacular natural setting and its significant role during the Civil War. The park also marks the unofficial midpoint of the nearly 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail.

Fact Sheet

Why We Need to Fix Our Parks

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Fact Sheet

The National Park Service (NPS) is over 100 years old, and the infrastructure and facilities at the more than 400 sites it manages nationwide are aging. Add wear and tear from visitors and inconsistent annual funding, and the Park Service can’t keep pace with needed repairs. NPS’s maintenance backlog has grown to an estimated $12 billion, and nearly half of that is for highest-priority assets.