Saratoga National Historical Park upgrades to enhance visitor experience
STILLWATER. N.Y. -- Numerous changes are planned to help Saratoga National Historical Park visitors gain a better understanding about the American Revolution's "Turning Point."
New imagery, structures and Wi-Fi capability, allowing for virtual and augmented reality, will be phased in over the next several years at stops along the park's Tour Road.
The British surrender following the Battles of Saratoga, on Sept. 19 and Oct. 7, 1777, prompted France's entry into the war, which ultimately led to America's victory and independence.
"The story that's told is going to try to humanize the battles a little more, telling about the people who were there and the makeup of soldiers' demographics, while still holding true to both sides' military strategies," park Superintendent Joseph Finan said.
Park officials this week outlined plans to the public during a presentation at Saratoga Town Hall.
The park recently obtained a $750,00 National Park Service grant for a Comprehensive Wayside Rehabilitation Plan to upgrade and redesign current Tour Road exhibits that have been in place since the 1960s and ‘70s.
The planning phase, scheduled for completion next year, is being done with help from two consultants -- the Albany-based firm Einhorn, Yaffee and Prescott Architects and Engineering and the L.A Group, Landscape Architecture and Engineering, of Saratoga Springs.
Construction will be phased in over several years, bringing the total project's cost to about $2.5 million, Finan said.
Faced with budget restrictions, the entire park service has a long list of deferred maintenance projects. Working creatively, officials hope to incorporate health and safety upgrades with improvements to the park's interpretive experience, Finan said.
"This is a pilot for the Northeast region," he said.
For example, plans call for permanent rest rooms and a shelter for school groups during inclement weather at Tour Road Stop 2. Upgrades also will make the park more handicapped-accessible with new trails and ramps at tour sites.
At present, park visitors primarily learn about battle strategy and the location of soldiers in the field. New features will tell more about the people related to prominent battlefield sites. The Nielsons were patriots, the Freemans were Loyalists and Bemis was neutral, Finan said.
Plans also call for imagery, such as silhouettes of cannon and soldiers, to give visitors a more visual battlefield experience, along with "ghost structures" -- building frames without roofs and walls that let people know these buildings existed when the battles took place. The park service has already taken this approach with a "ghost structure" of Ben Franklin's house at Franklin Court in Philadelphia.
In another effort, it's hoped that Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute students will help the battlefield implement a new virtual reality-type experience. In Austria, visitors to an ancient gladiator training ground see the whole camp come alive on their iPad. It's possible this could be done at Saratoga battlefield as well.
Finan said improvements also would be made to the way battles are presented chronologically. At present, Tour Road visitors go to the Second Battle site first, which is somewhat confusing. When completed, upgrades will tell more about the First Battle's significance and importance, he said.
For more information about proposed plans, go to www.nps.gov/sara/parkmgmt/publicinvolvement.htm.
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