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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.