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Now that the United States is perhaps facing a double dip recession, it may help to recognize that we've had it worse. You can do that quickly when you visit Valley Forge National Historical Park, the site of winter's discontent in spades, when it looked as though we might lose our war for freedom from the British crown.

In the winter of 1777-78, the Continental Army camped here, nearly starving and always uncomfortable. General George Washington, to show solidarity with the suffering troops, even brought Martha up from their pleasant Virginia home to stay with him for four months of the winter. The army's triumph over adversity here is often considered a turning point in the revolution. In fact, from February 1778 on, the soldiers began intensive training (mostly marching drills) under Baron von Steuben from Germany, becoming an effective fighting force by May of the same year.

Nearly 2,000 of the 12,000 soldiers here died that winter, about 67% of influenza, typhus, typhoid and dysentery. A good way to get the full story is by purchasing the official NPS 125-page handbook about the war, The American Revolution, available at the Visitor Center.

Location

The park is located near King of Prussia, PA, about 20 miles northwest of Philadelphia by highways I-76, then US 422, and State Route 23.

Events

There are often lectures such as those held in the Washington Memorial Chapel organized by the Friends of Valley Forge Park, wherein volunteers take the roles of Revolutionary War soldiers to tell their stories.

Highlights

In addition to the Trolley Tours (see below), consider just starting out at the Visitor Center, where you pick up a free map, learn about the day's events and touring options. Watch the 18-minute orientation film, look at the museum exhibits and consider a ranger-led walking tour, which lasts about 40 minutes, traveling about a quarter of a mile.

On spring and fall weekends, and daily in summer, interpreters and volunteers gather at the Muhlenberg Brigade Huts to show visitors the life of the common soldier in the Revolutionary War. There are other interpretive locations at Washington's Headquarters, the Train Station and the Stephen's Family House (Varnum's Quarters).

None of the 2,000 original soldier's huts remains, those that you see today being reproductions based on the model that Washington wanted soldiers to follow when they built them. During that historic winter, the soldiers also built five earthen forts and a bridge over the Schuylkill River. Washington himself stayed in a stone-built colonial home, and other generals had their own dwellings.

Note also the 20th-century Washington Memorial Chapel (a functioning Episcopal church), the imposing National Memorial Arch (1910-17), the statue of Mad Anthony Wayne, and monuments from the states which had soldiers present during that fateful winter. The Train Station (1911) is now used as a museum and information center.

The park was a state park from 1893 until 1976, when it was given by Pennsylvania to the nation, becoming a National Historic Park, under management of the National Park Service. It's quite large, with 3,500 acres in all.

Outdoor Activities

There are 19.5 miles of hiking trails, 17 miles of horseback riding trails and 21 miles of biking trails. Check out the bird watching opportunities, with more than 227 species of birds observed already.

Getting Around

You can save gas and get around the park in summer in one of two different ways. There's the Revolutionary Shuttle, a free ride running every 20 minutes and stopping at 9 locations. They have bicycle racks on each shuttle so you can bring your bike along, too. The second way of getting around without your car is by Trolley Tours ($16 for adults, less for children, students, seniors and active military), with 90-minute guided tours in an open-air trolley bus, visiting the most popular spots in the park. Reserve a seat on these at tel. 610/783-1074.

Hours and Fees

The park is open daily, year-round, from 7am until dark. The Visitor Center is open 9am to 5pm daily, except for Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year's Day. Washington's Headquarters and the Train Station are open on the same days as the Visitor Center. The Washington Memorial Chapel is open daily 10am to 5pm except Sunday, when the hours are 1pm to 5pm.

There is no entrance fee.

Visitors

There were 1,617,511 visitors here in 2010, says the National Park Service (NPS). Back in the 1980s, there were over four million visitors a year, but maybe they measured visitors differently then.

Social Networking

The NPS and Valley Forge are experimenting with new ways to bring the park experience to you, using Twitter, Facebook, Flikr, and YouTube as of now. Check it out. You can also hear interesting stories about the park on your cell phone by calling tel. 484/396-1018 and following the prompts.

Contacts

The official website of the park is www.nps.gov/vafo. Phone them at tel. 610/783-1099. You can reach Friends of Valley Forge Park at www.friendsofvalleyforge.org.