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  • Writer's picturejamesbriankerr

Peaceable Man Files #38: A Fall Weekend in Gettysburg, With Apples

Random musings on my vagabond existence in the Endless Mountains of Pennsylvania and wherever else life takes me.

Rachael and I (and Cassie, of course) put a wrap on the 2023 RVing season last week by taking our camper to Gettysburg for an extended weekend stay at the lovely Granite Hill Camping Resort.

Being a native Pennsylvanian and a bit of a history buff, Gettysburg is one of my favorite places to visit, and what better time to go than in October when the crowds are down, the weather is cool, and the fall foliage is at or near its peak?

As if those are not reasons enough, the National Apple Harvest Festival is held every October in Biglerville, just outside of Gettysburg. If you’ve never been to the festival and are into that sort of thing, I highly recommend it. It’s held the first two weekends of October on the spacious South Mountain Fairgrounds. There you’ll find more than 300 vendors selling every apple creation under the sun—pies, cider, wine, butter, bread, fritters, you name it—along with arts and crafts.

There’s also entertainment: bluegrass music, chainsaw carving, Native American dancers, wagon rides, antique cars, and one of the best demonstrations of antique tractors I’ve ever come across on the East Coast.

All this for an admission price of ten bucks. The proceeds are plowed back into the local community, and on the way home, make sure to stop at one of the many orchards surrounding the Fairgrounds to pick your own basket of apples.

Can’t beat it.

Visits to Gettysburg always bring back fond memories for me. When I was young, our parents would take me and my siblings on day trips to Gettysburg to visit the battlefields. I remember walking the grounds in awe of the endless rows of monuments and cannons. I have vivid memories of climbing up the observation tower to look down on the fields where the Northern and Southern armies clashed in that pivotal three-day battle in July of 1863 that turned the tide of the Civil War.

When I had kids of my own, we continued the tradition by taking our boys on camping trips to Gettysburg each summer. On one of those trips, we bought our youngest son Liam a Union soldier’s hat and a toy Civil War musket. He carried that toy musket with great seriousness as we toured the battlefields as if intent on facing down the ghost of any Rebel soldier who might rise from the dead.

It’s fascinating, when looked at in hindsight, what power seemingly innocuous family traditions have on developing minds. With every yearly excursion we made to Gettysburg, Liam’s interest in the Civil War grew, until he was obsessed by it. He pored over Civil War battle maps. He watched Civil War shows and movies. He got a set of toy Civil War soldiers for Christmas and staged battles on the rug. The North always won. Always.

That fascination led to an interest in American history and politics. His dream was to attend Gettysburg College, which eventually he did. After graduating from there, he went on to work full-time on the Hill in Washington D.C. Now he’s finishing up his law degree at the University of Pennsylvania. His family and friends think he’s going to be a congressman or senator one day. I’m sure of it.

It was while Liam was studying at Gettysburg College that he and I discovered the National Apple Festival and started going to it. Now, the festival has become a fall tradition for us. Liam drove up from D.C. to join Rachael and me last weekend at the campground. Our plan was to go to the festival on Saturday, but that day turned into a washout, so we played board games in the camper and later went into town for dinner. It was a lot of fun.

Sunday morning dawned clear and cool. We rose early and, as we always do when in Gettysburg, we went for a drive around the battlefields. Liam has become quite an expert on the Civil War, and he gave us a personal driving tour of the grounds and the sequence of battles that took place there.

Being that it was a Sunday morning in October, there were none of the crowds that pack the grounds during the summer and we pretty much had the battlefields to ourselves. The only downside is that some of the roads around the battlefields, including around Little Round Top, are currently closed for construction work. If you’re planning to visit Gettysburg anytime soon, be sure to check the construction alerts before you go.

After the tour, it was off to the festival. Aside from it being a bit muddy from the rain, it was a perfect day for festival-going: crisp and cool, the air fragrant with the smells wafting from the food vendors. We stuffed ourselves on barbeque chicken and roast beef sandwiches from the barbeque pit. We sampled apple cider, apple-spiced wine, apple whiskey, and caramel apple fudge. We brought back a homemade apple pie for dinner.

It was altogether an awesome day and weekend that combined three of my favorite things: fun, family, and fall foliage watching.

But what made it for me was a comment that Liam made at one point as we were driving around the battlegrounds on Sunday morning. Whenever he comes back to Gettysburg, he told us, he is reminded of just how much of an influence this place has had on the direction he has taken in his life and his career. And it all started during those early family camping trips to Gettysburg.

I think, as well, of my other two grown sons, who today are avid hikers and outdoorsmen. I have to think those interests were sparked by our family camping and hiking trips when they were young.

As parents, we often take our influence over our children for granted. But the little things we do, the seemingly small traditions we establish and share with our families, can have a profound impact on our kids in ways we don’t realize until they’re older.

I saw it this past weekend in Gettysburg. And I’m hoping for many happy returns in the years to come.

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Oct 22, 2023

You will get those happy returns. My two siblings & I are constantly recalling family camping trips we had as kids. They were great learning experiences that we all carry with us all these many years later. Enjoy!!


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