Rivers, states and history merge at Harpers Ferry

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Fall is a wonderful time to enjoy crisp air and turning leaves in the nearby mountains of Maryland and West Virginia. The historic town of Harpers Ferry, W.Va., located where the Potomac River meets the Shenandoah, offers tours of the historic buildings and sites led by National Park rangers, bike riding and walks along the C&O Canal, hiking on the Appalachian Trail and shopping in a variety of quaint stores, including gift boutiques.

The small town has a long history of famous visitors and military events. The town was established in 1763, 12 years after Robert Harper, attracted by the waters, obtained the land and started building his home there. In 1785, George Washington came to Harpers Ferry to consider building canals, and in 1794, he selected the town for a new federal armory and arsenal.

Thomas Jefferson, Meriwether Lewis, "Stonewall" Jackson, Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass all visited here, but the town is best remembered for the deadly raid on the Armory led by abolitionist John Brown and his small group of men who planned to arm slaves for a rebellion.

Encompassing land in West Virginia, Maryland and Virginia, Harpers Ferry has been a national park since 1944.

Coming events

Sept. 26-28, West Virginia's Mountain Heritage Arts and Crafts Festival. Just minutes from the historic part of town, this annual festival draws more than 200 craftsmen who display and sell their handmade work at the outdoor festival. The handmade items include clothing, pottery, jewelry, quilts and wooden furniture as well as many others. The tents are open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. each day, and live bluegrass music starts at lunchtime. The entrance fee (includes parking and entertainment) is $6 for adults, $3 for children 6--17; children under 6 are free. For more information about the festival, visit or call the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce at 800-624-0577.

Oct. 4-5, Historical Park Event, "John Brown: Beyond the Gallows." Park staff and volunteers share the story of how Brown's raid polarized the nation on the question of slavery. After the raid, both pro- and anti-slavery groups were willing to resort to violence.

Nov. 1-2, Historical Park Event, "Hold the High Ground: The Battle of Harpers Ferry 1862." Artillery-firing demonstration. Members of the living-history group the Baltimore Light Artillery will interpret the battle of Harpers Ferry and the surrender of the Union garrison to Southern forces under Gen. Stonewall Jackson.

Other things to do

The 2,300 acres of Harpers Ferry National Park offer a lot of outdoor activities, from bird-watching to hiking, fishing (license required) to rock-climbing and rappelling (registration required).

A short, somewhat steep climb up old stone stairs at the heart of the historic part of town leads you to the Harper House, St. Peter's Catholic Church (built in the 1830s), the ruins of St. John Episcopal Church and finally to Jefferson Rock. From this big, flat rock above the town you see the Potomac River cutting through the Blue Ridge Mountains, from the viewpoint where Thomas Jefferson saw it in 1783. The rock was fortified in the 19th century with four stone pillars to keep it from tumbling down the hillside. On a Saturday, it's a popular viewpoint. On a weekday, it's a great place for a picnic lunch.

Through Oct. 31, Blue Ridge Outfitters in Harpers Ferry offers weekday and weekend white-water rafting trips on the Shenandoah River. The outfitters also offer canoeing, duckying, biking, tubing and kayaking instruction, though depending on the weather, some of those activities may be closing for the season soon. For more information: www .broraft.com or 304-725-3444.

Getting there

To Mountain Heritage Arts and Crafts Festival:

Take Interstate 70 West to Frederick. At Frederick, take Route 340 West toward Charles Town/Harpers Ferry. Continue on Route 340 for approximately 20 miles and take Route 230 (toward Shepherdstown) for approximately 2 miles. Turn left onto Route 22 (Job Corps Road). Entrance to festival is 1/2 mile on left.

To Harpers Ferry National Historical Park:

Take I-70 West to Frederick. Continue west on I-70 at Frederick for about 1 mile. Take Exit 52 onto U.S. Route 340 (Charles Town and Leesburg exit). Continue south/west on U.S. 340 to Harpers Ferry (22 miles). Cross the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers and continue west. Turn left at the traffic light and proceed to the Harpers Ferry NHP Cavalier Heights Visitor Center. There is a $5 park entrance fee (valid for three days).

Information

For more information about the national park: www.nps.gov /hafe

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