Perhaps George Washington could not tell a lie, but others created myths about him, including the one about him chopping down a cherry tree.
It is true, however, that a 21-year-old George Washington traveled through Western Pennsylvania in the winter of 1753 and almost died here, at least twice.
Local organizations will mark that journey on the 284th birthday of the man who would become the nation’s first president next Saturday by merging two annual outdoors events in Butler County. Probably no one will complain that the free event includes slices of cherry pie.
The Cherry Pie Hike has been a wintry tradition held on or around Washington’s birthday since 2000 by the Butler chapter of the North Country Trail Association on the part of the trail that crosses Route 8. This year, they’re joining forces with Washington’s Trail 1753, a nonprofit project to teach and commemorate Washington’s travels through Butler County and his narrowly escaping being shot and killed by a Native American guide. That project had planned its own hike and re-enactment of that shot for last fall, but it was decided to merge the two events.
Next Saturday’s fun will be focused around Jennings Environmental Center, where — during the event’s run from 8:40 a.m. to 2 p.m. — re-enactors will present a period winter encampment. There visitors can see and touch the equipment that soldiers and other travelers used to survive in the harsh wilderness of the day. Washington and his guide, Christopher Gist, had camped in that very neck of the woods on Dec. 26, 1753. Washington was on his way back from a mission to deliver an ultimatum from Virginia’s lieutenant governor that French forces withdraw from British-claimed territory west of the Alleghenies.
Other re-enactors will re-create the musket shot — on Dec. 27 of that year — that almost killed the young Washington. Some consider that missed shot, taken by a local native, to be the first in the French and Indian War.
Just two days later, Washington almost drowned crossing the icy Allegheny River at what’s now Washington’s Landing. But he survived to lead American forces in the Revolutionary War and become the new nation’s first president.
Visitors can take short history hikes every half-hour from 9 a.m. through 1 p.m. They also can take 45-minute nature walks in Jennings’ prairie. The most ambitious can take two-hour hikes on the North Country Trail — led by NCTA volunteers — at 9 and 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Volunteer Dave Adams says that because they can’t predict the weather, trail condition or the speed of the hikers, they plan to start at Jennings and hike an hour south on the trail, toward the Route 528 trailhead in Moraine State Park, and then hike back out over the same stretch of trail.
Because the sizes of the hiking groups are limited, participants are strongly urged to reserve their hike or nature walk times by phoning the Harmony Museum at 724-452-7341.
While you’re there, you can learn more about the national scenic trail, which, when completed, is to be the nation’s longest, at some 4,600 miles. It will link scenic, natural, historic and cultural areas in seven states from New York to North Dakota.
You can also learn more about Washington’s Trail 1753, which is under National Park Service consideration to become a National Historic Trail.
Other sponsors include Butler County Tourism and Convention Bureau and North Country Brewing, which is donating the cherry pie and coffee. That’s another reason organizers need folks to RSVP — so they have enough snacks.
By adding the living history to the outdoors aspects, “Hopefully we’ll get the best of both,” says Rodney Gasch of Washington’s Trail 1753.