“You are standing on grounds that witnessed a momentous event,” reads the interpretive trailhead of Saratoga National Historical Park’s newest site and trail, which opened to a crowd of 250 visitors in Victory, New York, on National Trails Day, Saturday, June 5th.
The one-mile trail includes a fully accessible boardwalk that traverses a 22-acre forest where thousands of beleaguered British soldiers, women and children retreated after being decisively beaten by American forces in the 1777 Battle of Saratoga. The victory was a pivotal event in America’s Revolutionary War and secured U.S. independence in 1783.
After opening comments and ribbon cutting by Superintendent Joe Finan and local dignitaries, park rangers led three hiking groups on the ADA trail. Starting at the 155-foot- tall Saratoga Monument, a 19th century obelisk commemorating the Revolutionary War victory, the trail passes magnificent old spruce trees and the ornate grave markers of Prospect Hill Cemetery, a park partner site where British fortifications once stood and where a Revolutionary War soldier is buried.
The trail continues through a gentle rolling field (belonging to another park partner – the village of Victory – before opening onto the recycled CorrectDeck boardwalk that meanders under a cathedral-like canopy of evergreen and deciduous trees. Along the way are ten interpretive waysides that aptly capture the somber mood of the site, featuring deeply personal stories and new, original art (through Harpers Ferry Center). One of the most evocative waysides tells the story of two brothers not knowing the other was fighting on the opposite side and suddenly seeing each other across a stream. They rush into the icy water and embrace, and the entire story is told simply by an 18th century eyewitness account.
After the guided hike, visitors returned to light refreshments courtesy of Eastern National. Ten park partners working collaboratively on various land conservation and heritage tourism initiatives were available to discuss their programs; all these organizations were working in partnership to build upon the local area’s history. Visitors had a chance to mingle with staff, reflect on their ideas about the trail, and learn how this trail is a segment of a larger planned trail network linking local attractions and thematically related sites.
The event capped five years of planning and development for Victory Woods, while also spurring great interest among locals and partners to improve other historic sites associated with the Saratoga campaign.