Vicksburg National Battlefield Park has a long association with the Boy Scouts of America. Generations of Scouts have hiked and studied Civil War history and American Heritage there. Many Scouts have fond memories (or, are those horror stories?) about hiking up and down in the hilly park.
My older brothers hiked it in the mid-1960’s when my father, E.C.Parker, was one of the Scout leaders. I think what they remember most clearly about that hike is slogging through the rain with backpacks full of rainwater. Dad used to laugh when he recalled one scout sitting down partway through that hike and asking the Scoutmaster, “If I don’t want this badge, do I have to keep walking?” He was apparently told, “Yep, fall in!”
Recently I was talking with James Bryant of Magnolia. James recalls finishing his Hiking Merit Badge in 1962 at Vicksburg – in the snow! It apparently snowed so much that it collapsed their Army surplus pup tents onto them in the middle of the night.
We certainly did not have snow as a problem the last time our local Troop #124 hiked Vicksburg. It was June of 2014 and we would have given a left arm for a few flakes of snow or a few drops of rain. We took eight scouts and three adult leaders hiking and somehow managed to fit a 7 or 8 hour hike into eleven hours in the 98 degree heat! At one point, one of the adult leaders lay down on the side of a shady hill near the National Cemetery and said, “Y’all just pile dirt on me and bury me here!”
Vicksburg is not all horror stories. It really is one of the finest hikes around for Scouts, but here are some hints to avoid the horror stories –
Early spring or late fall – your best times for hiking Vicksburg are probably March-May and October-December.
Prep hikes – be physically ready for a 14-mile road hike, and be especially ready for hills.
Carry plenty of water and a cell phone and not much else.
A pair of hiking poles make a huge difference.
For purposes of earning the Vicksburg hiking medal you can break the hike into two 7-mile days with a camp-out in between but for purposes of the Hiking Merit Badge, the hike has to be at least 10 miles without an overnight in the middle. So you have to figure out if you want to count this hike for the medal or for the merit badge.
Recently, Troop #124 of McComb almost had a very fine hike at Vicksburg. We picked a weekend in November that turned out to be perfect hiking weather. We had eight or nine experienced hikers and had spent a couple of months buffing up on our physical fitness. We’d made our pack lists and checked them twice. We were ready! It was going to be glorious!
On the appointed morning we loaded up before dawn so that we could get to the Battlefield right when they opened at 8am. That would give us plenty of time to finish the 12-mile compass trail though the interior of the park.
But as we turned off the Interstate at Crystal Springs to take the shortcut through Utica to Vicksburg, my Chevy Traverse sputtered and died! We pulled over on the shoulder with a couple of Scouts accusing me of running out of gas. I assured them that we were not out of gas because a Scout is always prepared. We managed to limp around the corner to a service station at about 5 miles per hour but it was apparent that we would not be going to Vicksburg in that vehicle so I whipped out the trusty cell phone and called for evac!
Unfortunately, by the time my wife arrived with the mother-in-law’s vehicle, we didn’t have time to get to Vicksburg and finish the hike. So we re-routed to Percy Quin State Park and did a 10-mile hike there. It wasn’t Vicksburg Battlefield Park, but the combination of perfect hiking weather and interesting plants and animals made for a very fine nature hike. And as a bonus, when we were finished with our 10-mile hike, I was only three miles from home!
Article originally published in the Enterprise-Journal