TRENTON, N.J. – The annual re-enactment of George Washington’s daring 1776 crossing of the Delaware River draws large crowds of families and history fans to both sides of the river in Pennsylvania and New Jersey each year on Christmas.
But the re-enactors may be kept out of the water this year unless Mother Nature provides some help.
Organizers say a “pretty significant amount” of precipitation will have to fall in the coming days to raise the river’s water levels in time for the event, adding that where and when any snow or rain occurs are also important factors. But they stress that all other events planned at the park on the day of the crossing — including Washington rallying the troops and other historical speeches and processions — will still take place.
Thousands of people turn out each year for the event — the trek turned the tide of the Revolutionary War — between Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania, and Titusville, New Jersey.
Boats ferried 2,400 soldiers, 200 horses and 18 cannons across the river during the original crossing. Washington’s troops marched 8 miles downriver before battling Hessian mercenaries in the streets of Trenton.
Thirty Hessians were killed, and two Continental soldiers froze to death on the march.
Joe Capone, executive director of the Friends of Washington Crossing Park, a non-profit organization that partners with the Pennsylvania environmental officials to run the park, said that if an inch of rain fell across the river’s entire water basin, it would need to be in large watershed area including northwestern New Jersey, northeastern Pennsylvania and even as far as upstate New York.
“If that could happen, we would like to have it occur four to five days beforehand so it drains and has a couple days to get down to us here,” Capone said.
The National Weather Service says no major storms appear to be on the horizon.
“There will be some precipitation over the next couple weeks, but it’s not looking like there will be anything that’s really significant enough to bring the rivers up,” said Joe Miketta, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Mount Holly, New Jersey. “But obviously things could possibly change.”
The low water levels make it impossible to ensure safe passage for the re-enactors and the expensive replica wooden Durham boats that travel from the park in Pennsylvania over to the river’s New Jersey side. The re-enactment can’t happen unless the water level is at least 9 feet above sea level, and recent water levels have been around 8.3 feet.
The low water levels spurred the cancellation of another crossing that was to be held Dec. 10, and some previous Christmas Day crossings have been scuttled due to water and/or weather issues.
A final decision on whether to cross the river this year will likely be made a few days before Christmas.
“The re-enactors and everyone else involved takes this event very seriously, and it educates while entertaining,” Capone said. He noted that even if the full crossing can’t happen, it’s possible Washington could make the trip alone in a boat if the re-enactor portraying him was amenable.