FORT ANN — Virginia Parrott will never walk the nature trails or educational kiosks planned for Battle Hill in Fort Ann, but residents who gathered Monday night said the vision for the site was created very much because of her.
Parrott was the town's historian since 1972 and a passionate advocate for the importance of the Revolutionary War battlefield. She died on Aug. 24, and her great-niece, Christine Milligan, was appointed to the historian position at the Town Board meeting.
Tracey Clothier, a planner with The LA Group, and Michael Panich, a landscape designer with The LA Group, presented draft walking trail and educational signage plans for the site off of Route 4. Even before officially working on the project site, Clothier said Parrott had told her all about the importance of Battle Hill.
The Battle of Fort Anne took place in July 1777 and is considered a critical turning point toward the defeat of British Gen. John Burgoyne's forces at Saratoga later that October.
Continental troops' attack in Fort Ann caused British troops to retreat up Battle Hill. Thinking that there were reinforcement troops coming, the Continental Army withdrew to Fort Edward. However, the battle delayed Burgoyne's troops long enough to secure an American victory at the Battles of Saratoga.
"If Fort Anne didn't happen, we might not have had the surrender at Saratoga, which was so important," Parrott had told The Post-Star in 2015. "This area is so important."
Clothier said Parrott inspired her to work on the site, and a few years later, she found herself doing just that.
Dale Grinnell, treasurer of the Washington County Historical Society, said Parrott had been fighting for Battle Hill for 50 years. He asked the town to name something on the trail after her, and Supervisor Richard Moore said he thought that would be a great idea.
Clothier and Panich said the group is envisioning keeping the landscape and trails as natural as possible, but there could be some clearing of vegetation to create more vistas as people hike along the trail. They've proposed building out the trail in three phases to make the project more manageable.
Panich said the estimated costs do not factor in potential volunteer work by area schools interested in working on the project. Clothier said The LA Group is working with the town, too, on applying for grant opportunities, including the American Battlefield Protection Project, the Hudson Valley Greenway Grant Program and the New York State Department of State's Local Waterfront Revitalization Program.
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Besides being an important site to the residents of Fort Ann, Clothier said with the Empire State Trail traveling through the town, the Lake Champlain Canalway trail project coming through and being on a scenic byway, the town needs to think about keeping visitors occupied.
"I think of it as like a charm on a necklace," Clothier added. "It's one of the beautiful charms up and down the Hudson River, and the Champlain Canal. ... I just want you to understand that it's not just Battle Hill in Fort Ann. It's part of a much bigger picture, just as the battle itself was."
There's still many things to be done before the phases can begin.
The town is still working on purchasing the phase one portion of land from Caprood Holdings LLC. Working with the state Department of Transportation on getting an entryway off Route 4 will be another big project, Clothier said.
The town has applied for the site to be on the National Register of Historic Places, and special permits may be needed for specific site work. Archaeological digs are also expected to continue, which could change the layout of the trail somewhat depending on what might be found.
"This design doesn't exist in a vacuum, and it's not written in stone," Panich said.
Still, residents appeared eager about the vision before them Monday night, all nodding their heads and saying affirmatives when Clothier called out to see what they thought.
Tony Cantanucci said he'd recently visited Mount Independence on Lake Champlain in Vermont, and the plans reminded him of it. Mark Miller, the town's code enforcement officer, said he hoped Battle Hill could be connected to Fort Ticonderoga in some way.
Milligan, who had tears in her eyes as the board appointed her to her great-aunt's post, was glad to continue her legacy.
Councilman Samuel Hall, who's also been steering the Battle Hill's project committee, said Parrott had put in many hours with the historical site.
"I know she'll be pleased to look down and see it still moving forward," he said.