Morristown (NJ) National Park Hike

It seems like every time I ask young men the question “where did George Washington and his troops spend a terrible winter?” I get the same response –Valley Forge!

DSC_6155While it is true that Gen. Washington and his army did spend a terrible winter at Valley Forge, PA during 1777-78, the army nearly crumbled during its two harsh winters at Morristown, NJ. According to the historians of the National Park Service, they describe the time at Morristown as “…where they [the army] would endure fiercer weather conditions and subsist on fewer supplies than they had at Valley Forge.”

Compounding the situation in 1779-80 were new laws forbidding the troops from stealing food from local resident’s farms. While this sounds like a smart move by the congress, one must remember that the army was under funded and what monies it did possess were treated as valueless as compared to the British currency. The troops had to forage the same wilderness for food and stock was soon depleted by the constant hunting and trapping.

During the second encampment at Morristown, Gen. Washington had to deal with mutinies by the Pennsylvania and New Jersey Brigades. Several of the mutineers were hanged as an example to the others.

Why Morristown?

The National Park Service site sums it up nicely:

The Continental Army camped in the Morristown area on several occasions because of its location and resources. Morristown was a two day march from the main British base in New York City. The Watchung Mountains and the Great Swamp stand between New York and Morristown and acted as a natural defensive work.

As a result, Morristown could not be taken by a surprise attack. The various roads passing through Morristown allowed the army to move in any direction to counter the movements of the British. Because of its roads and safe location, Morristown served as a military supply depot for much of the war.

As a result, the army could obtain food, clothing and equipment at Morristown. Local resources such as water and trees for fuel and construction were also a necessity for the army. In addition, the local homes could provide quarters for generals and staff officers.

Unfortunately, the British had great supplies and access to the sea. The Continentals had far less to work with during the winters at Morristown, and the weather was significantly worse than during the Valley Forge Encampment.

Our Hike

Jockey Hollow medal and patchThe Jockey Hollow Trail Medal program is offered by the Patriot’s Path Council of Boy Scouts of America. A trail booklet can be purchased at the Patriot’s Path Council office or by contacting them by phone/email. As we follow the trail, we will need to identify historical markers and answer specific questions about what we learn along the way.

The trail is about ten miles long and roughly shaped in a figure-8 pattern.  The best aspect of this shape is that the two loops intersect about a quarter mile from the visitor’s center and parking lot (a good re-supply spot for fresh water, bathroom breaks and such).  It is possible to split the trail into two five-mile segments.

Northern Loop MapWhile the trail booklet suggests covering the southern loop first, we’ve found it more convenient to work the trail booklet “backwards” and cover the northern loop first.

If boys in the Woodland’s Trail program would like to accompany the older Navigators and Adventurers on the first hike, there’s a 3.5 mile loop available that is all on paved roads – this would enable the youngest boys to hike with the older Trailmen for the first third of the trip and “short cut” back to the parking area with their leaders/parents.

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Go to the following web sites for hiking maps of the area:

Want to Learn More?

Southern Loop MapThe rangers at the National Park work hard to provide a great experience.  They have presentations, films and they work with local volunteers to schedule special programs throughout the year. In 2013, there was a full weekend program enabling visitors to discover the experiences of a soldier during the Spring of 1780. The Encampment weekend provided a window into history with hands-on activities and opportunities to talk with re-enactors, witness demonstrations and more. Participating Reenactment Units included: 2nd New Jersey Regiment, Helms’ Company; 1st Continental Regiment of Foot; German Regiment; 1st New Jersey Regiment; Oak’s Company of Artificers; 9th Pennsylvania, Light Company; Mott’s Artillery, 2nd Detachment (Sunday Only); 5th Pennsylvania Regiment; 1st Maryland Regiment.  Check their main web site prior to your trip to see if any special activities are planned.

THE BSA PATRIOTS’ PATH JOCKEY HOLLOW TRAIL

DSC_6204The Boy Scouts of America have been hiking the trails of Jockey Hollow for more than 50 years. For additional Information about the Trail, cost of awards, and any other questions can be obtained by contacting Linda Mickel at the Boy Scout Service Center, 222 Columbia Turnpike, Florham Park, NJ 07932. Phone: (973) 765-9322 ext. 258 or Linda.Mickel@scouting.org

Boy Scout Ten-Mile Adventure [Navigators/Adventurers]

The trail begins at the Visitor Center and the Wick House. From there the hike goes to The Jersey Brigade Trail, walking through the Audubon Society’s property. You will continue to Stark’s Brigade, to the Soldier Huts and back to the Visitor Center. An additional component to the Jockey Trail experience is a visit to Washington’s Headquarters in Morristown, a short drive from Jockey Hollow. There is also an optional orienteering course that can be worked on during the hike. After completing the hike, answering a few questions while on the trail, and completing a 250-word essay, Scouts and Scouts are eligible to purchase the Jockey Hollow medal from the scout shop on Florham Park, NJ.

Cub Scout Five-Mile Adventure [Woodland’s Trail]

The trail begins at the Visitors’ Center and stops for visits at the Wick House/Gardens, and soldier huts. There is a scavenger hunt incorporated with the Trail. It is a good afternoon hike for the Cubs and an outdoor activity where they can learn about the winter encampment. Don’t be surprised if you hear cannon or musket fire when approaching the Soldiers’ Huts. Often there are reenactment groups camping over for a weekend.

Remember, LEAVE NO TRACE. “Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints.”

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