62 Days of Summer
Saratoga National Historical Park
WHERE: 648 Route 32, Stillwater
WHEN: Visitors center open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; 5-mile guided bike tours scheduled July 30, Aug. 13 and Aug. 27, 6 to 8 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $5 for vehicles; $3 for bicyclists, pedestrians and horseback riders ages 16 and up
MORE INFO: 664-9821, www.nps.gov/sara
It’s where the British tried to hold their ground in the late summer and early fall of 1777.
It’s where many bicyclists stop today to recharge or celebrate completing the most grueling stretch of an 11-mile loop through history. Even hard-core riders like a group of seven from the Boston area had paused at The Great Redoubt on a recent Wednesday afternoon to rest and enjoy the stunning view of the Hudson below and the mountains beyond.
Saratoga National Historical Park is a great place to exercise your body, and your civic pride.
Riding a bike is one way to see the Saratoga Battlefield and learn a little bit about the Turning Point of the Revolution, if you’re willing to dismount at 10 tour stops and assorted monuments along the way.
“Sometimes they don’t pause enough,” park ranger Joe Craig said. “It’s a pretty park. . . . We’ve got hills. You can walk your bike and take your time.”
In addition to history buffs, Craig says the park is popular with birders and other nature lovers.
Among the historical highlights are Neilson Farm (tour stop 2), American River Fortifications at Bemis Heights (3), Breymann Redoubt (7) and The Great Redoubt (9).
John and Lydia Neilson’s home was used as a headquarters by American generals Benedict Arnold and Enoch Poor. The restored red-stained homestead offers a window into 18th century life.
The American fortifications at the southeast corner of the park were critical in halting British Gen. John Burgoyne’s march from Montreal to Albany. “The overlook on stop 3 is a favorite of mine,” Craig said. “That’s why the British didn’t continue on to Albany. They would have gotten clobbered. They weren’t as stupid as some people thought.”
The Great Redoubt is where Redcoat fortifications protected their hospital, Indian allies, American loyalists, food stocks and boats, according to park literature. It is where Burgoyne withdrew his army after suffering heavy losses on Oct. 7.
“We come out here every year,” said bicyclist Mickey Ahearn of Marshfield, Massachusetts. “It’s just a beautiful place with so much history.”
The group wasn’t stopping along the loop this time, except for a brief respite at The Great Redoubt. But the bicyclists said they’ve visited all the tour stops in previous trips.
“I’m always impressed with how far they lugged cannons and how hard it must have been because of the terrain,” said 79-year-old bicyclist Fred White, also of Marshfield.
For in-shape cyclists like these guys, the loop is a breeze. For those not in the best shape, like this writer, it can be (pardon the pun) a battle at times. The climb to The Great Redoubt is a real challenge and the final 1.5 miles, along the public access road back to the Visitors Center, can be demanding.
But you can also enjoy the park by car — or walk, run, or even tour on horseback.
“I like seeing the U.S.,” said Woody Cady of Seadrift, Texas, who was doing the loop by car with his wife, Tanya, daughter-in-law Shelby and granddaughter Celia, 2. “It’s beautiful here with the mountains and everything. It’s real flat where we’re from. I mean real flat.”
“It’s interesting,” Cady said of the battlefield’s offerings. “The older I get, the more I like to study history.”
Pick up your pass for the Battlefield loop at the Visitors Center. Before heading out, you may want to take time to walk through the center, which has timelines for the battles, Revolutionary War uniforms and other attractions.