Walking Tour Trail & Parados Trail – Fort Mott State Park – Pennsville, Salem County, NJ
Distance: 1.2 miles (Walking Tour Trail)
0.3 miles (Parados Trail)
Difficulty: 3 of 10 (for stairs)
Website – Fort Mott State Park
Open – 8 AM to 4 PM daily
Terrain – flat riverside areas, but trail climbs on top of fortifications.
Trailheads – Walking Tour Trail – 39°36’12.09″N, 75°33’0.86″W (next to main parking lot)
Parados Trail – 39°36’14.49″N, 75°33’2.68″W (from parking lot, walk down behind main batteries. Turn right onto the road for the Welcome Center. Trail will start at the stairs to your left).
Directions: 454 Fort Mott Road, Pennsville, NJ 08070
Parking: Large lot just off Fort Mott Road.
Map – Official State park trail map can be found here
Description: On our way back from Pea Patch Island this Saturday, we stopped at Fort Mott. It would have been impossible NOT to stop, as this is where the Three Forts Ferry drops you off. Fort Mott is an awesome place, and if somehow you have never been there, open up that planner right now and put in a date in non-erasable marker.
Historically, Fort Mott was the answer to post-Civil War defense of Philadelphia. Paired up with it’s sister forts in Delaware (including Fort visible on Pea Patch Island), it guarded a narrow neck of the Delaware Bay turned river. The fort’s construction began in earnest just before the Spanish-American War and was manned through both that war and World War I. Never used in warfare, it was turned over to New Jersey for a park in the 1950s. The fort was named for Gershom Mott who, as many notable historians agree, had a first name that is fun to say.
I can’t remember who first told me about this place, but I’ve been here probably half a dozen times in the last ten years. It was one of my favorite places to go to test out any new camera or lens that I got, I loved dragging unsuspecting friends down here to explore, and my wife and I even had one of our very first date here (no, I don’t know why she married me either).
There are three trails within the park – the Walking Tour Trail, the Parados Trail, and the Interpretive Trail (a nature trail). We share two of them. For fun, I’ve occasionally thrown in one of my old pictures to show the changes over the last decade.
The Walking Tour Trail
As you would expect, this trail explores the fort and is by far the most popular thing to do here (although the twisty slide at the playground looks pretty sweet). You’ll start at the parking lot, walking behind the defensive emplacements. Your first stop is the first defensive work, Battery Gregg, which housed a lookout area and a large coastal gun. Climb the stairs in back to get up to the top. Here, you can see where the gun was placed and climb inside the bunker where lookouts would have been posted.
Climbing down the steps, you’ll head across the road (turning right would send you toward the visitors center. Left will send you toward the ferry dock) toward the next set of fortifications. You’ll enter the door at the back corner of the batteries. That’s right, inside trail! Inside, you can read the description, then head up the stairs to see where the disappearing guns were located.
The trail will NOT backtrack here, but will instead continue up the steps to the roof of the embankments. The trail will run to the front area and continue between the grass and the fences the length of the fortification. Signs along the way will tell you about different aspects of the fortifications. You’ll also have a grand view of the Delaware River. Continue onward until you come to the wooden steps, which will take you down the front side of the fortifications to the concrete walking path along the river.
From here, you’ll walk along the concrete path toward the tower. When a gap appears in the defenses, you’ll walk through it. To the right will be a lookout tower that’s worth walking to the base of. From there, you’ll turn around and walk back the way you came, only this time behind the defensive works. Almost immediately, you’ll pass the Peace Bunker (used for storing ammunition) and head into the tunnel used to transport ammunition.
Once you are through the tunnel, you’ll turn right and climb the steps. You’ll turn right at the top of the steps and go into the tunnel. Partway through, you’ll turn left and climb the stairs. Check out the pillbox, then head through the trench to the gun emplacement. Here, you’re out of real estate and will head back the way you came to the concrete walking trail on the ground
From here, the trail will follow along the back of the bunker, between the parados (used to defend the rear of the works from attack) and the front defenses (pointing toward the river). There will be opportunities to duck into buildings, so why not take them? When you get to the end of the wall, you’ll turn left and walk up the road.
When you reach the end of the fortifications, you’ll be back at the intersection that you hit just after Battery Gregg. Turn left and head away from the river.
The first thing you’ll see is a good sized hill with stairs leading up to the top. This is not natural, but is the rear defenses for Fort Mott, called a parados. This set of stairs is also the beginning of the Parados Trail, but more on that later.
The next spot on the Walking Tour Trail is the moat, which is directly behind the parados. The moat, dug out by hand (the soil was then used to build the parados) was used to present yet another obstacle. The parados also held the toilets for the men on duty. The toilets emptied directly into the moat, the grossest defense that I can think of from attack. Because the Delaware is tidal here, the moat would flood and self clean twice a day. In the event of attack, the outlet to the river would be cut off, making this one giant cesspool.
Next up is a double whamey. The park office will be to your left. To your right will be another observation tower. The sign lets you know that the observation tower (with it’s many sensitive instruments) was actually built with shock absorbers so that the instruments weren’t thrown off when the guns were fired.
Next up is the welcome center. I remember it having exhibits, but it seemed to be closed yesterday, and the porch looks weird. Maybe they are remodeling, or maybe I just didn’t understand their hours. Regardless, the wayback machine shows us what the exhibit looks like (or at least what it looked like in 2007).
Immediately behind the welcome center, you might notice a field full of large guns. Are they going to eventually clean them up and remount them (like they have with the one at Sandy Hook)? Let’s hope so!
The last stop on the trail is the old house out on the road, which I think was the Base Headquarters (but I could be very wrong). Regardless, here it is.
That’s it for the trail! But going backward, we can walk…
The Parados Trail
This is a short trail, maybe 0.3 of a mile, if that. It’s short, but worth the walk.
I like this trail, because it gives you a different view of the fortifications. It’s also surprising when you’re on top that it’s man made.
There is one more trail here at the park, but alas, I have yet to hike it. For next time!
Sources: Interpretive signs in the park.
For better historical coverage than this, I suggest checking out The History Girl’s Blog post Defending the Delaware
Nearby: From Fort Mott, you can take a ferry over to Fort Delaware on Pea Patch Island. This was part of the same defensive works of Philadelphia, but also was used as a prisoner of war camp during the Civil War. Very well preserved and worth the trip!
Supawna Meadows WMA with it’s three trails is practically next door!
At the edge of Supawna Meadows, visit Finn’s Point Lighthouse. A few days a year, you can even go up it (I’m not sure how often, but I climbed it during the New Jersey Lighthouse Challenge).
Just a 1/2 mile further up the road is Finn’s Point National Cemetery. Many Civil War veterans are buried here, including Confederate prisoners from Pea Patch Island, their Union guards, and some Nazi POWs from WWII.
Finns Point is also home to an anomaly… on the New Jersey side of the Delaware, there is a little slice of Delaware. This goes all the way back to the king’s grant, which gave Delaware an arc of land up to the low tide mark in New Jersey. When dredge spoilings later expanded the New Jersey coastline into the river here, that new land became part of Delaware.
Pictures of the same exact places, only in the snow (2005):
Old Spanish-American War era fortifications. Nice views of the Delaware River.
Ummm, it's too awesome? I can't think of a negative at all.