This past weekend about 180 people from around the state got a private, after-hours tour of Fort Sumter.

The cruise — sponsored by the South Carolina Historical Society and the Fort Sumter-Fort Moultrie Historical Trust — was quite the hit. There was a ceremony unveiling a 19th century portrait of Robert Anderson donated by his descendants and a history lesson on the Sumter commander from park historian Richard Hatcher. Then, dinner and drinks at sunset.

Doug MacIntyre, president of the Historical Trust, worked the dining room on the boat that evening, happy with the turnout (and the end of the government shutdown). The whole time, however, all he could think about was how many kids would get to see Fort Sumter as a result of the event.

For more than a year, the Fort Sumter-Fort Moultrie Historical Trust — basically a non-profit friends of the park group — has been running a “Kids to the Park” program that pays for school groups to visit the site of the Civil War’s first battle.

It’s a nice field trip for the kids, but the Trust is doing something much more important here.

The Trust is keeping history alive.

Since 2012, the Historical Trust has sent about 2,000 kids to Sumter.

Most of them are third graders, because that’s when students get their first introduction to South Carolina — and Civil War — history.

The program started out with a focus on Title 1 schools in Charleston County, but has expanded to all schools in the tri-county area.

“Some of these kids have never been on a boat and they live two miles from the ocean,” MacIntyre says. “It’s so heartwarming when you see some of the things they write in their thank-you notes. The boys like the cannons, and one girl said she got to see a dolphin.”

But mostly what these kids do is put their hands on history. You can read about the past all you like in books, but there is nothing quite like actually standing on the spot where history was made.

That has been the greatest benefit of the “Kids to the Park” program.

“This adventure makes the history of the Civil War come alive for them,” says Victoria Rusnock, a third-grade teacher at Stono Park Elementary. “At the fort they were awestruck at the museum and actually seeing the cannons and how small the fort was.”

Melissa Doscher Yarbrough, a teacher at St. Andrew’s School of Math and Science, says it really made a difference to have park rangers explain how people lived at the fort during the war.

“My students definitely remembered information about the Civil War and Fort Sumter,” Yarbrough says.

And that’s the idea.

The mission of the Fort Sumter-Fort Moultrie Historical Trust is to connect the community to the National Parks here.

They hope to eventually expand the “Kids to the Park” program to Fort Moultrie and the Charles Pinckney site. And what better place to learn about the Constitution?

This is not about a day out of class — it’s a chance to really connect with the past, to gain a better understanding and appreciation of what happened before we had an Internet. This is important because these days education funding is being cut, and one of the casualties has been field trips for local schools.

It’s funny — schools in Georgia, New York and New Jersey send school groups to Fort Sumter every year. And yet we have kids who live in the shadow of Fort Sumter and never visit it. You would think a state that reveres its history so much would not allow such a thing to happen.

It’s a good thing the Fort Sumter-Fort Moultrie Historical Trust recognizes how important it is to teach future generations about their past.

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