This month, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park proposed to permanently close the Maryland Heights parking areas, citing safety issues from illegally parked cars along Sandy Hook Road at busy times when legal parking was full. These parking areas have been temporarily closed since March 2020 due to COVID-19 safety protocols. The public can submit comments on this proposal through Feb. 27 by emailing HAFE_Superintendent@nps.gov.
Last year, MAC and our partners worked with the National Park Service and its contracted researchers to help collect survey responses from climbers regarding their interests and concerns with climbing in the Park. According to the technical report detailing the results of this research, “parking availability” was identified by respondents as the top barrier and constraint that negatively impacted climbing experience or opportunities.
The current proposal recommends that visitors park in the main Visitor Center lot (171 Shoreline Drive, Harpers Ferry, WV 25425), ride the park shuttle to Lower Town, and walk across the footbridge to the Maryland Heights trailhead and climbing sites. This process may add a prohibitive amount of time to a climbing trip, especially for climbers traveling from mid-Atlantic region metro areas such as DC or Baltimore. Additionally, the shuttle service hours do not match with daylight hours, meaning those who may want to start earlier or climb later would lack the shuttle option for access. The current proposal would eliminate the option for before or after work climbing for those who work the average 8 hour day.
We understand the concerns of some local residents whose safe passage along Sandy Hook Road has been impacted by illegally parked cars. However, we believe the permanent closure proposal is premature without an accompanying solution to address the loss of access to Maryland climbing and other recreational activities. At a February 10 public meeting, attendees representing a range of stakeholders (local residents, hikers, paddlers/boaters, business interests, and others) opposed this closure and offered numerous alternatives to address this issue. Ideas presented include (but are not limited to) opening new parking elsewhere in Maryland, restoring old parking that had been lost due to lack of maintenance, and expanding shuttle service hours as well as drop-off locations. While Superintendent Brandyburg stated that the Park is considering all options, proposed alternatives were not addressed in any detail during the meeting. The Park staff also did not offer additional information about whether they had examined alternatives before issuing the parking closure proposal.
Until alternative parking and shuttle options to recreation sites on the Maryland side are explored and released for public input, and until the Park completes its climbing management planning process, the National Park Service should not be making any decisions that would create additional barriers to accessing popular Maryland climbing areas. We would welcome an opportunity to not only address parking issues at Maryland Heights, but also the ongoing access issues for Balcony Rock, Balcony Jr. and other areas in the Park.
The Park has asked for alternative ideas to the permanent closure, but has not committed to releasing alternatives for public input. Please submit your ideas for alternatives to HAFE_Superintendent@nps.gov by Feb. 27, and we encourage you to also request a new public comment period on alternatives in your comments. If you have thoughts or ideas for MAC’s comments, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.