Civil War News
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Dennis Frye Returns To Harpers Ferry Park
By Deborah Fitts
May 2004 HARPERS FERRY, W.Va.

Dennis Frye, a Civil War historian well known to reenactors, movie fans and preservationists, has come full circle.

Frye returned to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park April 19 as chief of interpretation and cultural resource management. He left the same position in December 1994, after more than two decades at the park.

"Harpers Ferry has always been a part of my heart and soul," said Frye. "Even though I've been away almost 10 years I never lost interest in the continued development of the park."

Frye left to assume the presidency of the former Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites, in 1995-98, and since then has worked as a consultant in Civil War history. He served as associate producer of the movie "Gods and Generals," coordinated the 1997 and 2002 Antietam reenactments, wrote a general management plan for the Stonewall Jackson Headquarters house in Winchester, Va., and served as consulting historian for the Maryland Civil War Trails project on the Antietam and Gettysburg campaigns.

Harpers Ferry Superintendent Don Campbell said Frye was returning to a job that "has grown tremendously since he served here years ago." In fact, Campbell said, the post has become "one of the key, lead positions at the park," largely on account of an ambitious business plan that the park hopes to carry out over the next several years.

The plan, drafted with the assistance of the National Parks Conservation Association, cautions that the park is underfunded by 36 percent, or $3.6 million annually. Consequently, park personnel "struggle to preserve an ever-aging and expanding set of resources," park visitation has dropped 35 percent since 1992, and "numerous projects" go unfunded.

The plan suggests solutions and strategies, including fundraising from private sources, increased entry fees, special events, and even closure of the park in winter months.

Frye's mission will be to solve the puzzle, Campbell said.

"He's been out in the private sector getting a lot of business experience. Those 10 years will be very valuable in terms of the future management of the park. He'll be able to directly apply those kinds of skills as we implement the business plan."

Frye said he wouldn't have returned to Harpers Ferry if the position were unchanged from a decade ago. "I like a new challenge and new adventures," he said.

He first worked at the park as a 15-year-old volunteer, in 1973, apprenticing in the blacksmith shop. He worked in the Youth Conservation Corps, as a seasonal park ranger, as a cooperative education student at Shepherd College, and upon graduating became a supervisory park ranger. He later became staff historian and then chief historian, in 1989.

The new business plan "brings a substantial amount of private-sector thinking into the management of the park," Frye said. "This is one of the most exciting periods in the park's entire 60-year history."

He said his focus will be on "improving and expanding visitor services," following his "customer-oriented" style.

Frye said that while his time will be constrained by the job, he hoped to be able to continue to some extent to give tours and to lecture and write.

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