- The Washington Times - Friday, June 4, 2004

CONCORD, Mass. — Strolling on ground where minutemen and British regulars once skirmished, modern-day visitors to Minute Man National Historical Park no longer have to depend on the occasional mounted sign to imagine Paul Revere’s ride or “the shot heard ‘round the world.”

Now, visitors can dial up the past on their cell phones and hear the American Revolution unfolding in their ears.

National Park Service officials hope a new self-guided audio tour, introduced recently at the park, will help visitors understand their surroundings better while also allowing them to stroll the grounds at their own pace.

The Minute Man National Historical Park is the first in the National Park Service to use cellular phones to guide a tour. The technology, developed by Spatial Adventures of Ashburn, Va., was first used at Historic St. Mary’s City, a Maryland museum of history and archaeology, starting in March. It has been used for tours of downtown Denver since April, says Scott Hilton, the company’s chief executive.

The concept is growing elsewhere as well; a company called Talking Street offers cell-phone tours of Manhattan’s Lower East Side and plans to introduce other locations this summer.

Park officials say the cell-phone concept was appealing because it didn’t require the purchase of equipment or tracking down audio machines that would wander off with visitors leaving the 970-acre park. Cell-phone tours also allow visitors to take a guided tour even when the park’s two visitors centers are closed.

The tour, three-quarters of a mile long, is divided into three parts.

In the first section, visitors can learn about the place where Paul Revere was captured and the “politics and economics that led us to start a revolution,” says Lou Sideris, a park ranger for Minute Man National Historical Park.

At the Hartwell Tavern, a homestead and farm where people traveling to and from Boston stopped to share news, visitors learn the role the landscape played in the war and the story of the people who lived along Battle Road, the route the British took when they retreated back to Boston.

The third part of the tour takes visitors to the North Bridge and the minuteman statue, describing the “shot heard ‘round the world” and how the events described are part of the American identity.

The audio presentation includes music, narration, expert descriptions and re-created eyewitness accounts of the circumstances and events of April 19, 1775, when the Colonials fought the Redcoats at the North Bridge, killing four and wounding several others.

It was at the bridge that Americans for the first time killed British soldiers. A statue there commemorates Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” his poetic tribute to militiamen, including his grandfather.

Two of the dead are buried next to the bridge. Though the battle was merely a skirmish, it was a turning point in the rebellion. For many, the North Bridge is where the Revolutionary War and America began.

The fee for the tour is $5.99 for the first 60 minutes, which includes the first two sections, then $3.99 for the next 25 minutes, which is enough time for the third.

About 20 percent of the proceeds will benefit the Minute Man National Park Association and will be used for restoring buildings, visitor services, landscaping and structural needs, Mr. Sideris says.

Informational material for the cell-phone tour advises those who are charged roaming fees to avoid using the tours.

“We don’t want people to have a bad experience by having a big cell-phone bill,” Mr. Hilton says.

Deana Trefz, 57, and her husband Terry, 60, of Newbury Park, Calif., recently decided to tour the park without the cell-phone accompaniment because of concerns about the cost.

“I figured the walk would take us some time and we pay roaming charges. It could get expensive,” Mr. Trefz says as he stands outside Hartwell Tavern.

Standing at the foot of the North Bridge looking out over the Concord River, Lee Guse, 61, listens to the tour from his Palm Pilot on a visit to the park with his children and grandchildren, all visiting from Columbus, Ohio.

“It refreshed my memory about the skirmish or the battle and the fact that the Patriots gathered on the other side of the bridge,” he says. “I kind of knew it in my mind, but I hadn’t thought about it for years, and it’s nice to renew that. It makes me patriotic.”

Park covers three towns

The Minute Man National Historical Park commemorates the opening battles of the American Revolution on April 19, 1775. Park officials recommend that visitors begin their journey at the park by viewing a 25-minute multimedia presentation that provides the basic story of the Revolution, shown at the Minute Man Visitors Center on Route 2A in Lexington, Mass.

The presentation is free and is shown every half-hour from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The Minute Man National Historical Park also owns the Wayside House, where “Little Women” author Louisa May Alcott lived as a teenager; the house later was occupied by Nathaniel Hawthorne, who wrote “The Scarlet Letter.” The house is open for tours from the end of May through the end of October.

The park spans three towns, Concord, Lincoln and Lexington, and is located 22 miles outside of Boston. From Interstate 95, take Exit 30B to Route 2A west. The park is a mile west off the ramp.

The Minute Man National Historical Park is open daily from morning until sunset. The visitors centers are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. The hours are reduced in the winter.

Admission to the park is free. Admission to the Wayside House is $4. Children 16 and younger are admitted free.

For more information for the Minute Man park, call 978/369-6993 or visit www.nps.gov/mima; for the Wayside House, go to www.cr.nps.gov/nr/travel/pwwmh/ma47.htm.

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