At Fort Roberdeau, they play a game called "Flee to the Fort,'' except until now kids have had to stand inside one of the buildings in the historic local fortress, close their eyes and just imagine they're running for their lives from their log cabin to the safety of the fort.
But with help of a state grant, visitors to Fort Roberdeau, expected to hit about 3,500 school students alone this year, can make that journey themselves. They will actually get to go from a real log cabin just like the early settlers would have lived in and move along a short path to the walls of the fort.
The cabin is adjacent to the Altoona fort and is just like one that the settlers would have run away from if they were threatened with an attack.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
A real log cabin, like one settlers lived in during the 1770s, is under construction at Fort Roberdeau in Sinking Valley. It should be finished by September.
More than two centuries ago, they faced various enemies at the time the fort would have defended the area, such as the British and Native Americans, said fort site Director Peggy Goodman.
"We're telling the story of the settlers who came to the fort as they were fleeing to the fort for safety,'' she said. "Many of the settlers had to give up their guns for the (Revolutionary) war, so they were left unprotected.''
The cabin is technically a log house because a log cabin has round logs and the structure built near the fort has squared-off logs, Goodman said.
If you go
What: Revolutionary War Days at Fort Roberdeau, Sinking Valley
When: July 21-22
Events: Fashion shows featuring period costumes 2 p.m. daily.; Battle Re-enactment with field camp, 3 p.m. daily; English Country Dancing, 8 p.m. Saturday; Revolutionary War-period Anglican Church Service, 10 a.m. Sunday. Call site for more information.
Cost: Adults $5, Children $3 (ages 4-11). Crafts available also.
For more information: Fort Roberdeau, 946-0048; www .fortroberdeau.org
It is the same size as a log house built on the other side of Brush Mountain and reconstructed from about the same time period as the fort, in the late 1770s. Fort Roberdeau is also not an original structure, but a reconstructed fort built in 1976. None of the original Revolutionary War forts like Fort Roberdeau survive.
The new cabin won't be finished in time for the annual Revolutionary War Days event slated for next weekend that features battle re-enactments and other period events.
But other upgrades such as a new viewing platform near a scenic area and nature trail improvements are completed for the event.
The nature trail is always open from 8 a.m. to sunset for anyone to enjoy and the log house, while not yet open to the public, will be visible from the fort.
Construction of the house began last August and work should finish by this September. A mild winter helped work continue almost nonstop as crews used a large crane to move the big logs into place.
Photos of the construction work may be seen on the fort's Facebook page kept up to date by Webmaster and research Assistant Paula Zitzler. The website is www.fortroberdeau.org.
"There's a whole album of the little house in the woods,'' she said, of the array of photos documenting the progress of the work on the cabin from ground up.
Landscape architect Stephen Parks designed the project in cooperation with Goodman, the Fort Roberdeau Association and the Blair County commissioners. Village Restorations and Consulting supplied the log house components for $35,000 while BCS Construction of Altoona did the remainder of the construction work for $109,000.
The state grant of $87,250 from the Department of Conservation of Natural Resources required matching funds in funds and labor plus a little extra money from the association when the entire project ran over budget. The log house was just part of the project that the grant covered. Other improvements to the fort site include upgrades to the nature trails to make it easier for physically challenged visitors to get around and new trails markers to help people better understand what's on the trail.
More trees and improvements to the parking lot and entrance to the fort at the intersection at Kettle and Fort Roberdeau roads are also part of the upgrade. A new pavilion to replace a shelter that was installed in the 1930's is another improvement that came with the grant.
But one of the other big changes along with the log house that visitors will really appreciate is a new viewing platform that is accessible by a series of steps that leads them down to a sinkhole area. From the viewing area they can see a sinking stream and see the limestone layers that surround the stream.
Nearby a plaque tells the natural history of the sinking spring and limestone strata and explains how the area got its name.
"There are many streams in this valley which sink into underground channels,'' it said. "That's why the surveyors who made the first maps of the valley named it Sinking Spring Valley.''
The viewing area, the log house, and the enhanced nature trail will no doubt score high marks with both students and teachers who visit this fall. School students are probably the biggest users of the Blair County recreational site, said volunteer and association treasurer Lee Campbell, who has most recently spent his time restoring the site's authentic Conestoga wagon. The students come from schools in surrounding counties such as Centre, Cambria and other central Pennsylvania counties in addition to Blair County. And often the students remember what they see at the fort months after they leave, he said.
He recalls one student who visited with his family on July 4th, after he had come to the fort with his school during the school year. The boy recognized Campbell and told the volunteer he remembered Campbell's talk about the Conestoga wagon.
"I was so pleased to hear that," Campbell said. "It makes you feel great when somebody says something like that, that your activities are worthwhile.''
The regular admission price to the fort is $4 for adults and $2 for children (ages 4-11). The cost is $1 higher for each category for Revolutionary War Days. Normal hours are Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday and Monday 1 to 5 p.m. The cost will allow you to visit the fort, the trails and the cabin once it's finished.