Ensuring the Future of an Old Trail's History
The Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail follows the marching path of allied French and Continental armies from Newport, RI and Newburgh, NY to Yorktown, VA during the Revolutionary War. This trail marks the war’s largest coordinated troop movement of these allied forces, and thousands of soldiers traveled these hundreds of miles to combat their British counterparts at the Siege of Yorktown in 1781.
At Yorktown, the combined strength of General George Washington’s Continental Army, General Rochambeau’s French forces, and Admiral de Grasse’s French fleet forced General Lord Charles Cornwallis to surrender, and soon, the united colonies won their independence to become the United States.
Today, the 700-mile trail runs through nine states and the District of Columbia. While only some places are marked with trail designators and interpretive signs, if you live on the East coast, you’ve likely walked or driven on the trail.
In 1999, a coalition of individuals teamed up with American and French government officials, as well as historic and greenways organizations, to form the National Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route Association (W3R®-US). “The story of the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route is a great story of partnership and what alliances can achieve,” said Ellen Von Karajan, executive director of W3R-US.
Over the next 10 years, dedicated legislators advocated and pushed the trail through the legislative process, and W3R-US worked with state organizations to initiate and fund documentation of historical events related to the trail and to develop and install interpretive markers along the main trail. Members of W3R-US and state organizations also raised public awareness and engaged the community in activities such as wreath laying, reenactments, and historical balls.
Through W3R-US’s partnerships with local and federal government officials, historians, national heritage organizations, the National Park Service, tourism bureaus, and local historical societies, Congress officially designated the route as a National Historic Trail in 2009.
W3R-US is now turning its attention to accessibility and state-based projects. Since the trail passes through several states, local W3R-US members and affiliated organizations are working on specific projects, including a proposed traveling exhibit. Also, the group recently received a grant from the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area to conduct a cultural resource survey of the allied army’s 1781 Hudson River crossing. In addition, W3R-US is producing online resources including biographies, images, contextual information, and maps to help teachers build curricula.
“We spend our grocery money, our paychecks, and all our spare time, breathing life into this magical story,” said Kim Burdick, former project manager and national chairman of the board.
The Continental Army was full of men who were hungry, cold, and unpaid for much of the war. As they declared their independence, the American colonies had no cannon foundries, gun manufactories nor gun-powder supplies to speak of. They also had no navy, no engineers, and no cartographers. Beginning in 1777, most of their arms, ammunition, and technical expertise came from France. The revolution was successful through the power of partnership, and designating this trail as a historic site relied on partnership.
If you’d like to learn more about the work of W3R-US or view a detailed interactive map of the trail, head to W3R-US’s website. Then head out to #FindYourPark/#EncuentraTuParque along this historic trail, or get involved with a park-supporting organization in your community!