Chris Craig canal community story

Chris Craig is one of two representatives for Harpers Ferry-Bolivar’s membership in the Canal Town Partnership, a coalition of towns partnering with the National Park Service and the Canal Trust to provide services for trail users and to work for sustainable economic development related to the C&O Canal.

My connection with the C&O Canal began long before I lived in the region. In 1983, after riding my bicycle from my home in Kansas to Virginia, I rode the towpath from Washington, DC to Harpers Ferry and became enchanted by that little town. How could I have known that years later that town would become my home?

After moving to Washington in 1991 and later to Harpers Ferry, the C&O became my go-to for weekend adventures and evening hikes with friends. I grew to love the locks, the river views, and the interesting little towns along its towpath.

So, in 2009 when the Canal Town initiative began, it seemed natural for me to get involved. Along with others in Harpers Ferry and Bolivar, I surveyed our services for people arriving in town on their own power and discussed ways our towns could better benefit from trail-related economic development. Some of us would start meeting regularly—eventually becoming a loose-knit group called the Trail and Town Alliance of Harpers Ferry and Bolivar. We were eventually designated as the official steering committee for our towns in the Canal Town Partnership and later for the Appalachian Trail Community program.

We got involved in numerous projects: working to get bike parking and bike racks on buses, improving signage on and near the trails, hosting veterans participating in the Warrior Expeditions program, planning and laying new trails in and near the towns, and cleaning up the towpath and other trails. Lobbying for a ramp on the C&O end of the Byron Bridge was an early priority, and—I’m pleased to say—finally looks like it will happen in the near future, easing access for bicyclists and other trail users going between the towpath and our towns.

Though the Civil War and John Brown come to most people’s minds when they think about Harpers Ferry, we are increasingly a town of trails. Hikers and bikers, from day-trippers to folks on expeditions, see us as a destination or a place to discover as they pass through. Of course we benefit from those trail users economically, but they also are part of the culture and the draw of our towns.

And for me and many others, the Canal continues to be a reason to love where I live. During the pandemic, I felt fortunate to walk those 184.5 miles with my partner and my dog over months of day hikes. Now I enjoy leading group hikes on the towpath for the Sierra Club and the Harpers Ferry Park Association. And I like attending Canal Town meetings up and down the towpath, learning of the challenges and the exciting things happening in our towns.

My years spent in Harpers Ferry have seen change. The town has changed a bit, and that carefree biker from years ago is now a park guide and town councilmember. But I’m pleased to say that much of the magic remains. And I’m likewise glad to say the C&O Canal and towpath remain a part of that charm.