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Park Joins With State To Manage Oriskany Battlefield

Fort Stanwix National Monument

National Park News

Through an agreement between the NPS and the State of New York, Fort Stanwix is helping manage two nearby Revolutionary War sites, including Oriskany Battlefield. Fights at both sites were key turning points in the Saratoga Campaign, itself a turning point in that war.

In August 1777, British forces under Gen. Barry St. Leger besieged the American held Fort Stanwix, located in present day Rome, New York. The British expected this small fort in the wilderness to fall quickly, allowing St. Leger’s army to continue its march eastward to join up with General Burgoyne and take the northern colonies.

On August 6, 1777, 800 militia re-enforcements led by Gen. Nicholas Herkimer approached from the east in an effort to relieve the besieged fort. Near the Oneida Indian village of Oriska, they were ambushed and eventually repelled by British and Indian forces in one of the bloodiest battles of the war. During the battle, however, American forces from the fort were able to raid British camps and capture much needed supplies. The siege would continue but the fort would not fall, and after 21 days the British and their allies retreated. 

Today the siege of Fort Stanwix and the Battle of Oriskany are looked on as a key turning point in the American Revolution. With St. Leger’s army in retreat, the engagements led to Burgoyne’s defeat later that year in October at the Battles of Saratoga, and the eventual French alliance.

In 1887, Ellis H. Roberts, editor of the Utica Morning Herald and a former U.S. Congressman, wrote “the battle of Oriskany and the defense of Fort Stanwix are Siamese twins.  Separate events, they are so conjoined that they must be treated as inseparable in fact.”   The story of these sites is so intertwined it is hard to separate them and for that reason, the National Park Service and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP) are working collaboratively to tell the story.  In 2008, the two agencies developed a cooperative management agreement that turned day-to-day operations of Oriskany Battlefield State Historic Site and the Steuben Memorial State Historic Site over to the NPS staff at Fort Stanwix.  

A cooperative management agreement (CMA) is different from a cooperative agreement.  This authority allows for “cooperative management between the National Park Service and a State or local government agency of a portion of either park will allow for more effective and efficient management of the parks.”  The authority further allows for the assignment of employees to the other agency for the purposes of the cooperative management activities as deemed mutually beneficial.   

In the specific agreement between the NPS and OPRHP, day-to-day operations, including interpretation, maintenance, and the procurement of supplies and services of the two state historic sites, was turned over to the NPS.  In return, the state provides monetary support to the NPS to hire the seasonal staff needed to mow lawns, present programs, and work the visitor center as well as pay the utilities and purchase supplies.  In addition, the two permanent OPRHP employees assignment to these sites have been assigned to work with the NPS.  They remain state employees, but report to work at Fort Stanwix and work side by side with NPS employees.

 “New York State's Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation was pleased to enter into this mutually beneficial partnership with the National Park Service,” said New York State Park Central Regional Director Rob Hiltbrand. “The two agencies are naturally linked through the Battle of Oriskany and this partnership brings the strong interpretive program that exists at Fort Stanwix National Monument to the original battle site at Oriskany Battlefield State Historic Site.  The partnership allows us to draw on the strengths of each agency to better tell the story to our visitors.” 

“The partnership allows us to provide a seamless experience to visitors of both Fort Stanwix and Oriskany Battlefield,” said Debbie Conway, superintendent of Fort Stanwix. “Visitors can learn about the siege at the fort from an NPS ranger and then travel the six miles to Oriskany to meet another ranger who will weave the events of the battle into the story of the siege. “  

In addition to enhancing the thematic connections between the sites, the partnership allows for a greater sharing of resources. OPRHP staff provides research expertise which provides new information for incorporation into interpretive programs. The maintenance crews for both agencies often work side by side on larger projects, share equipment, knowledge and experience with one another. OPRHP generously includes NPS staff in training opportunities offered within the region by their agency. OPRHP staff also has access to office equipment and information systems of the NPS. 

In 2011, the staffs worked together with the Rome Area Chamber of Commerce to apply for and receive an American Battlefield Protection Program grant to delineate the boundaries of the entire battlefield, including Fort Stanwix, Oriskany and the transportation corridors in between.   Through a request for proposal process, they will be hiring a consulting firm to conduct a KOCOA (key terrain, observation and fields of fire, cover and concealment, avenues of approach) military terrain analysis of the battlefields, which will further bolster future preservation efforts. 

Both agencies view the present arrangement as a win-win and look forward to continued joint operations.  With the present agreement slated to expire in 2013, managers in both agencies are already working on a revised agreement to maintain and enhance the partnership for another five years.


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