The Appalachian Trail Conservancy Headquarters and Visitor Center are located in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia just one quarter mile from the Appalachian Trail. The historic town is the site of many noted Civil War battles, and for through hikers, is considered the ‘psychological half-way point’ of the Appalachian Trail. Although there is no camping at Harpers Ferry National Historic Park or in the town, there are several local inns, hotels and bed and breakfasts available for guests to stay.
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Four miles of the Appalachian Trail pass through West Virginia and Harpers Ferry. Trails are in the range from easy to moderate and cover an elevation of approximately 1,000 feet. Hikers can find information about the trail and maps for day hikes from the Visitor Center. Exhibits at the Visitor Center include a three dimensional map of the trail that stands at over 10 feet tall, and a child-sized trail shelter that kids may play in.
Through hikers enjoy stopping at the Visitor Center between the months of May and July to have their photograph taken at the historic headquarters. From the Appalachian Trail, hikers reach the Visitor Center by way of a blue-blazed side trail that begins just south of the Potomac River Footbridge and just north of the bridge crossing the Shenandoah River. Harpers Ferry’s location at the convergence of these two rivers in the foothills of the Blue Mountains also makes the site one that both through and day-hikers enjoy spending additional time in.
History: The Appalachian Trail Conservancy traces its roots to 1921 when regional planner ----- announced his utopian vision, which included plans for the Appalachian hiking trail. These plans gave way to the Appalachian Trail Conference in 1925 during which plans for the hiking trail were further detailed. The group made very little progress other than the creation of a few new pathways linking existing trails. In 1930 the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Arthur Perkins took the reins of the ATC project and by 1937 the 2,000-mile trail from Georgia to Maine was complete, and plans were underway for the construction of several overnight shelters. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, under the direction of the ATC’s new director Stanley Murray, the group grew from just over 350 members to over 10,000 during a campaign proposing federal ownership of the trail to ensure its future protection. Thanks to the contributions of First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson, the National Trails System Act 47 was signed into law in 1968, making the Appalachian Trail the first National Scenic Trail.
In 1972, ATC headquarters moved from Washington DC to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Management of the trail corridor lands was officially transferred to the ATC in the 1980’s. In 2005, with an official name change from Appalachian Trail Conference to Trail Conservancy, the organization reestablished its mission to not only manage, but promote and protect the trail. The ATC celebrated their 90th anniversary in 2015. Over 25,000 people visit the ATC Visitor Center and Headquarters each year.
Ongoing Programs and Education: A subcommittee of the Harpers Ferry Historic Town Foundation has formed the Trail and Town Alliance of Harpers Ferry and Bolivar, an Appalachian Trail Community. AT Communities are towns and cities located along the trail’s corridor that are considered valuable assets to through hikers and act as ‘good neighbors’ to the trail. The Appalachian Trail Communities sponsor day hikes and volunteer clean ups of the trail. The Harpers Ferry group’s mission is to promote eco-tourism in the area and understand the needs of hikers and recreationists. Of the Harpers Ferry events, April’s annual Flip Flop Festival celebrates the start of the outdoor season and promotes flip-flop through hikes of the Appalachian Trail, an increasingly popular way to hike the trail.
What’s Nearby: The Appalachian Trail Park Office of the National Park Service is also located in Harpers Ferry within the Harpers Ferry National Historic Park, making the town the official epicenter of trail operations. The National Park offers close to 4,000 acres of recreation, hiking, boating and river activities. Notable historic sites within the park include the location of John Brown’s Raid, an 1859 uprising just prior to the Civil War in which Brown attempted to overthrow slavery and capture the Harpers Ferry armory. Harpers Ferry is the home of Storer College, the first integrated school in the United States, of which Frederick Douglas was a trustee. Downtown’s renovated 19th century buildings are home to several historical museums.
799 Washington Street, Harpers Ferry, WV 25425, website, Phone: 304-535-6331