by Cristina Ramirez, Centennial Volunteer Ambassador, Valley Forge National Historical Park
“What battle was fought here?” It’s a question that a lot of the rangers get here at Valley Forge National Historical Park. I’ve never been asked, since as the Centennial Volunteer Ambassador I play a more behind-the-scenes role working with the Volunteer Coordinator and our Volunteers-In-Parks (VIPs). But I was given the opportunity to attend the majority of the seasonal training for new rangers, where I learned all about the historical buildings, monuments, and natural resources of Valley Forge. I also learned which battle was fought at Valley Forge, so that I could answer that important question visitors always seem to have if the opportunity arises. As it turns out, no battle was fought at Valley Forge. Visitors probably have the same question I did – then why? Why this place? Why a National Historical Park? Why would 3,500 acres of land be set aside for their supposed importance during the Revolutionary War? Because it was the site of Washington’s Encampment from December 1777 to June 1778. It is where Washington staged his plans for one of the most important battles of the war and prepared his troops to defeat the British. It is where the Continental Army became an organized, cohesive group.
What is now a beautiful park with rolling grass-covered hills and two forested mountains was the site where Washington (with the help of a few other important people) prepared the troops to defeat the British at the battle of Monmouth. Except back then the rolling grass-covered hills were muddy and crowded with two thousand huts, all lined up in parallel rows as far as your eye can see. Those forested mountains were barren and covered in tree stumps, since the trees were needed for fuel, warmth, and shelter. The mountains, steep and sturdy, also provided a much needed defensive obstacle against the advancing British. The Schukyll River was another nearly impassible obstacle that protected the encampment (and was probably cleaner too).
Valley Forge estimates that the majority of their visitors are local recreational users who bike the outer line ridge of the park, picnic in the meadows, and hike the trails of the two mountains, Mt. Joy and Mt. Misery. However, I doubt most of them understand what important events took place right here in their backyard. This is the place where the Continental Army overcame harsh conditions and became a united front, all fighting for what they so strongly believed in.
I encourage you, whether you are an SCA intern at a park or a visitor to this blog, to take a deeper look at these national parks, sites, and memorials you visit. Find out which battles were – or weren’t – fought there. Not only is there so much to learn about these sites, but there are so many ways to engage with them, and one of those things is to volunteer. I think many people don’t realize just how many ways there are to contribute to their national parks. We don’t just need greeters at our front desk. We need avid gardeners to keep our flower beds looking good and history lovers to help us educate our visitors and hardy outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen to maintain our trails. This is part of what I will be doing during the coming year as we approach the centennial of the National Park Service. I will be finding those people who want to give back and be part of the Valley Forge community, and helping them find something that they will love doing here in the park. To quote my find your park video, “I am convinced every park has something to offer everyone, no matter what their interests are, and I want to help them find out what it is.”