Never the Same Twice
Every time I enter the grounds of Fort Ticonderoga, I feel like I have stepped onto a sacred place. I am somewhat aware of all the hardships, struggles, and sacrifices made on these 2000 acres when our country was just beginning; although I learn and appreciate more with every visit. Thanks to the Fort Ticonderoga Association, the stories here are preserved, explained in intricate detail and become vividly alive. No matter your age or knowledge of history, you come away with a greater understanding and appreciation of our nation and how we attained the privileges we know today. Every year the Fort changes the “lens”, Beth Hill, President and CEO of Fort Ticonderoga informed me. By taking a different human perspective of involvement at Fort Ticonderoga during the mid-18th century, one is given a different viewpoint of what was happening here, how and why. Activities, procedures, dress all change to coincide with that specific time frame so that the Fort Ticonderoga you see this year, will not be the exact Fort Ticonderoga you will see next year, etc. This even applies to their method of outdoor cooking and meal preparation. This year we view Fort Ticonderoga from eyes and experiences of the Fourth Pennsylvania Battalion in the year of 1776.
Those who have never visited the Fort need to be aware that it sits in some of the most spectacular scenery ever. The views are breathtaking. The Fort and its surrounding landscape occupy a peninsula that juts into Lake Champlain. The Fort itself rests on a knoll which allows fabulous vistas in every direction; Green Mountains to the east, Adirondacks to the west and Lake Champlain to the south. I headed there on an early summer day. The weather was picture perfect and I hoped to get out on the water in a canoe; one of the new recreational opportunities available at Fort Ticonderoga. Before I got anywhere near the water, my attention was captured by the day’s programs and demonstrations.
Stuart Lilie is Fort Ticonderoga’s Director of Interpretation. It is very obvious that he has a passion for his vocation. In full uniform, crafted right here at the Fort's Tailor Shop, his voice easily projected to everyone in the crowd. He spoke with emotion, injecting substantial food for thought, as he explained the background and service of this battalion from Pennsylvania. We all watched, intrigued, as these uniformed and outfitted men demonstrated the many procedures and steps needed to fire one single shot from a musket; how careful positioning of the troops was critical so as not to get shot by their own comrades. There were no ammo clips, or a simple aim and fire here. The subsequent smell of gun powder added an extra element of first-hand experience to witnessing the loud musket booms.
Beyond Stone and Artifacts
If you think of Fort Ticonderoga as simply stone structure, or a museum, rethink! Yes, there is the museum with centuries old artifacts that you will find nowhere else. There are changing exhibits and incredible artwork all relating to our country's military history at Fort Ticonderoga. For those who prefer to be more active, canoe rentals are available from late May until Columbus Day. Also new, is the Carillon Battlefield Trail with almost two miles of available exploration on the Fort grounds. While on the trail you can participate in the Archeology Quest Scavenger Hunt locating key “artifacts" along the way. However, daily programs and demonstrations are enough to keep you busily engaged. There is so much to see and do. It would be impossible to see it all in one day's time, particularly if there is an ongoing event which seems to be happening all the time.
Certainly the King’s Garden is not to be missed. It is a short stroll through a tree lined lane from the Fort. Anticipation builds with every step as you know you are headed for a very special place. The peace, tranquility and color in the setting of the walled 1920s Colonial Revival Garden will encourage you to linger and study the multitude of flowering trees, shrubs and perennials. Outside the walls of the more formal garden, a Garrison Garden supplies fresh herbs, vegetables and salad fixings for the America's Fort Café on site in the log house. This café uses local meats, cheeses, baked goods and produce whenever possible. I was delighted I took the time for lunch there and highly recommend the General Schuyler burger.
Quiet Paddle on the Bay
My watch told me it was already afternoon and I had yet to get out on the water. There was a Living History Event the day I was there. In the early afternoon, visitors to the Fort were to be guided by a soldier to the lakeshore to watch troops arrive by bateaux. Afterward, they were invited to assist the Fourth Pennsylvania Battalion to set up camp. I planned to launch the canoe after watching the bateaux arrive since I would be right where the canoes are docked. I scurried to the Guest Services desk at the Log House Welcome Center. At this desk helpful Fort staff explain the procedures for canoe check out, go over all rules, regulations and safety issues, provide you with paddles and life vests (which you agree to wear at all times) and answer all your questions. You can check out a canoe as early as 9:30 AM, and the latest canoe check out time is 2:30. You must have the canoe docked by 4:00 PM. Full day rentals are $50, half-day, $35. There is a discount for renting additional canoes should you have more than two in your party.
I was provided with a handy map of the lake and the La Chute River area in which everyone renting a canoe agrees to remain within. It's a very large area actually. I noted that you could paddle all the way to Bicentennial Park in downtown Ticonderoga. The map also indicated canoeists could cross the lake to the Vermont shore at Mount Independence. I was interested in viewing the Fort from the water, to see what it looked like to the soldiers arriving by boat. I also was anxious to catch a glimpse of some birds and wildlife that inhabit the marsh and river delta. Seeing the Fort rise above the water and dozens of marsh birds and turtles, I was not at all disappointed.
Away from the bustling Fort activity, it was incredibly peaceful out on the water. I was surprised that the water was so clear. You could easily see bottom and I spotted plenty of fair-sized fish which made me wish I had brought a pole.