Hidden History and Service at Valley Forge National Historic Park, Pennsylvania
- Gain appreciation for the significance of national parks and volunteering
- Uncover or rediscover the fascinating history of this landmark
- Enjoy a free day to explore Philadelphia, the nation’s first capital
- Camaraderie of working with like-minded people to preserve and protect this historic landmark
- Educational presentation(s) by local historians or park docents
- Most meals; accommodations in a restored farmhouse
|Dates||Oct 4–11, 2014|
History is full of surprises. If you have a fascination with America’s past and a penchant for enriching your intellectual archives with lesser known pearls of history, then join us for a unique service trip! As fall descends along with colored leaves, immerse yourself in the legends and stories surrounding one of the most famous turning-point sites in the American Revolutionary War, where not a single shot was fired.
From December 1777 to June 1778, the U.S. Continental Army, led by 45-year-old General George Washington, made their winter encampment on high ground between two steep, forested hills near the Schuylkill River, 20 miles northwest of Philadelphia. Outraged with the Continental Congress for appointing committees upon committees and tinkering with the supply chain, which effectively cut off supply delivery to his troops, Washington wrote letters to Congress urging them to feed and clothe his soldiers or the army would be reduced to “starvation or dispersion.” Aware of a conspiracy by select members of Congress to force him to resign, Washington established successful spy networks in Congress, Philadelphia, British encampments, and on the battlefield. He eventually won back the trust of Congress and spent the winter building his "new" army.
Fast forward to June 1778, General Washington and his disciplined army marched out of Valley Forge in pursuit of the Tories and British fleeing Philadelphia. Advance units of men armed with long rifles, sometimes called the secret weapon of the Revolution, and Oneida Indians armed with muskets, implemented a daring raid against the British army outside of Philadelphia. The rest is history, well-known history. Valley Forge-- where neither a musket nor gunshot was fired.
Valley Forge National Historical Park was established in 1893 as Pennsylvania’s first state park. It was transferred to the National Park Service in 1976 to celebrate the bicentennial anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Today, Valley Forge National Historical Park commemorates and preserves that pivotal, historic six-month period in the American Revolution. Some buildings that have been restored are the colonial house used as George Washington's headquarters and log cabins that were constructed by the soldiers for living quarters. Artifacts found during excavation can be viewed at the visitors’ center museum. There are also a variety of interpretive programs conducted by park rangers as well as 26 miles of hiking trails at the park.
The mission of the National Park Service at Valley Forge is to preserve and to protect historical, cultural, and natural resources within the Park. Our project will be to assist them in this task. Possible projects include tree planting, removing invasive plants, seed gathering, helping to protect new plantings from whitetail deer, and maintaning trails. The NPS staff will supply all tools, training, and supervision of the work projects. No experience is required; there will be a variety of tasks suited to various skill and ability levels. Being in good physical condition will enhance your enjoyment of this exceptional opportunity. Come expecting to work, have fun, and discover a bit of hidden history!
For some projects within the Park, we will carpool the short drive to the worksite using participant vehicles. The National Park Service will provide safety equipment and tools for our volunteer service projects.
We will meet mid-afternoon on Saturday, October 4 at the restored farmhouse of General Lafayette, our home for the week. Park staff will host an informal meet-and-greet reception where we’ll learn about the Park, our service project(s) for the week, and options for non-service days. We will dedicate at least four days to work projects and have a day and a half for exploring the greater Philadelphia area or relaxing. On one of our free days, we will organize an optional group trip to explore nearby historical or cultural landmarks, take a train to Independence Park or Gettysburg, or rent bikes and explore the Schuykill bike trail. Expenses for activities on non-work days, including the evening meal, are not included in the price of the trip.
Throughout the week we may also enjoy guided tours of the park or ranger/docent-led hikes. Our informal conversations will also include little-known bits of history regarding Valley Forge NHP, Montgomery County, and conservation/sustainability efforts in this region. Given the funding restrictions the Park Service has experienced, we may talk about ways volunteers can assist the service.
On the morning of Saturday, October 11, we will tidy up the farmhouse and say our farewells after breakfast.
Valley Forge NHP is located about one hour north of Philadelphia. Public transportation operates between the Philadelphia airport and the Sheraton Hotel in King of Prussia, five minutes from the Park. Participants are responsible for arranging their transportation to the Park and for any accommodations they may need before or after the trip. The trip leader is willing to provide suggestions regarding options. Before the trip begins, participant contact information will be shared so participants may arrange ridesharing.
Accommodations and Food
We will be staying in the two-story, restored farmhouse that was used by General Marquis de Lafayette during the winter encampment. There are four bedrooms, so please be prepared to share your sleeping space. A good pair of earplugs is always a handy item to bring. Restroom and shower facilities are also shared.
Wholesome, nutritious food is always a highlight of service trips. Our meals will largely be vegetarian friendly. As is customary on National Outings, participants will take turns assisting with meal preparation, kitchen tasks, and clean-up. Individuals with food allergies or strong food preferences are requested to contact the trip leader before signing up for the trip to see if accommodations are possible.
The service projects may be moderately strenuous at times, but activities will be varied enough so everyone can work at his or her ability level and comfort pace. Safety is the primary concern on all service trips and participants will not be expected to work beyond their capability. Work breaks are customary so that we may enjoy our surroundings.
Our work day will begin each day around 8:00 a.m., lunch will be wherever we happen to be mid-day, and we’ll wrap up our day’s service project around 4:30 p.m. After work, you are free to enjoy optional activities around the park, hike or bike the local trails, relax, or just hang out and enjoy the ambiance of the fall colors and whispers of the falling leaves.
Equipment and Clothing
With some certainty, we can anticipate not experiencing the winter snow and freezing temperatures that the Continental Army did during their stay at Valley Forge. Pennsylvania’s late-evening to pre-dawn temperatures during October may be cool with afternoon highs in the mid-60s to 70s; dressing in layers is highly encouraged. Breezy, sunny days or cool, cloudy days with light rain may be expected during the week, so come prepared for any kind of weather.
The National Park Service will provide safety equipment and tools for our volunteer service projects. Participants will need to bring clothing appropriate for outdoor work projects, closed-toe protective shoes, and a day pack large enough to carry lunch, snacks, water bottles or hydration system, extra warm clothing, rain gear, and personal items, such as an ouch kit, camera, and daily medications. The leader will carry a trip first-aid kit during all activities. Participants will also need to bring a bed roll or sleep-sack, towel, casual clothing/shoes, reusable lunch container(s), and personal toiletries. A detailed equipment list will be provided well in advance of our trip departure.
- Valley Forge National Historical Park: www.nps.gov/vafo
- Valley Forge Conventional and Visitor's Bureau: www.valleyforge.org
- McCullough, David, 1776.
- Bodle, Wayne, The Valley Forge Winter.
While its scenic beauty and open space draws many people, Valley Forge National Historical Park faces many conservation obstacles, including overpopulation of "domesticated" wild deer, invasive plant species, increased urbanization, and traffic congestion. The Park’s mission is to ensure that the site’s historic, cultural, and natural resources are passed on to the next generation unimpaired. We will learn from park staff about ongoing and future conservation efforts at Valley Forge NHP and within the National Park Service.
The Sierra Club is an environmentally focused organization. All Sierra Club National Outings leaders are volunteers dedicated to sustainability, conservation, and the preservation of resources, both locally and globally. Our hope is that the participants on this service trip will become strong believers in and advocates for protecting our fragile planet and becoming dedicated stewards of the Earth.