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
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
"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.