Monthly Archives: June 2015

Where’s your park?

Maybe it’s in your ‘backyard’, or perhaps across the country? Have you been there many times, or do you dream of going? Does your park have windy peaks, a teeming desert, a stirring history, a home of ancient people?

Get ideas, share your park tales and be inspired by others at Find Your Park.

Did you know that if you visited one national park per day for an entire year you wouldn’t see them all?


RMNP: Looking good at 100

Rocky Mountain National Park was established a year prior to the founding of the National Park Service. Throughout this calendar year a century of its places and people are celebrated at various events in the park.

Don’t miss a chance to join in on upcoming centennial events, many of which are listed in the current issue of the park’s newspaper.

Share stories and images from 1915 through 2015 at


Image courtesy NPS.

Wildfires rage in Alaska

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Following the hottest May in over 90 years hundreds of wildfires are now burning in Alaska. While so far small in total acreage consumed, the 291 fires (many ignited by tens of thousands of lightning strikes) mark a particularly active start to the fire season.

The National Park Service currently is monitoring several fires burning in remote areas of Denali and Wrangell-St. Elias national parks and preserves.


NPS image from June 23, 2015 of fires in Denali.

Parks racking up record visits

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Already several parks are reporting off-the-charts visitation for 2015:

–Early summer conditions likely led to Glacier National Park having its second busiest May in park history (a 20 percent bump from May 2014).

Grand Teton National Park saw a 12 percent increase in the first five months of 2015 compared to the same period last year.

–Topping the list is visitation in Yellowstone National Park which is up 24 percent so far this year.



Inside Yellowstone

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Worth-a-look videos posted by the NPS on YouTube give glimpses from inside the nation’s first national park. Some are only a few minutes long, like those of a bison calf taking its first steps, and the release of Arctic grayling embryos into a backcountry creek. Longer mini-documentaries offer a more in-depth look at park features like geysers and mountain goats.


NPS Photo by Neal Herbert.

10 new National Recreation Trails to explore

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Ten new routes have been added to the 16,000-mile strong National Trails System, adding 150 miles on which to walk, pedal or paddle. They are:


Autauga Creek Canoe Trail
The 13-mile canoe trail on Autauga Creek, part of the Alabama Scenic River Trail network, provides opportunities for kayaking, canoeing, floating on tubes, swimming, wading, splashing, and fly fishing. A popular three-hour paddle begins right behind Prattville’s City Hall. Paddlers will enjoy sections with swift, narrow channels that twist and turn past cypress knees and old downed trees.


The Tanglefoot Trail ™
Mississippi’s longest Rails-to-Trails conversion, The Tanglefoot Trail ™, is a 10-foot wide asphalt multi-use trail that meanders 43.5 miles from Houston to New Albany through the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in the Mississippi Hills National Heritage Area. “Whistle Stops” serve as entrances to the trail in between larger municipalities and provide restrooms, water fountains, picnic tables, and parking. The path, blazed by Native Americans and followed by early explorers, became the route of the railroad built by Col. William C. Falkner, great-grandfather of author William Faulkner.


Historic Railroad Trail
This 3.5-mile, multi-use trail connects the National Park Service’s Alan Bible Visitor Center within Lake Mead National Recreation Area with the Bureau of Reclamation’s Hoover Dam. The trail, constructed on an old railroad grade that goes through five tunnels used during dam construction, offers outstanding views of Lake Mead, Boulder Basin, Fortification Hill, massive crystalline rock formations, and the rugged Mohave Desert. Panels along the trail provide educational information.


Sackets Harbor Battlefield History Trail
This three-quarter-mile loop trail provides recreational and educational opportunities for visitors to Sackets Harbor Battlefield State Historic Site, located on the eastern end of Lake Ontario overlooking Black River Bay. Ten panels along the trail tell the stories of the pivotal role of the battle during the War of 1812, the 1860s Navy Yard, and the importance of historic preservation. The trail connects to the Village of Sackets Harbor’s War of 1812 Bicentennial Recreation Trail.


Chinqua-Penn Walking Trail
Located near Reidsville on property belonging to the North Carolina Upper Piedmont Research Station, this 1.7-mile loop winds through old-growth forest, skirts two ponds, and follows the fence lines of pastures where prize Black Angus cattle graze. Crops are tested in fields alongside farm roads once used as carriage trails; and scouts, school groups, youth groups, and 4-H campers use the trail for nature study.

George Poston Park Trail System
The trails at George Poston Park represent a collaborative effort between Gaston County Parks and Recreation and the Piedmont Area Singletrack Alliance. The stacked loop trail system features tight technical climbs and quick descents with beautiful runs along natural creeks, rock gardens, and thick woods. The Kid’s Bike Trail offers beginners a feel for the Poston woods with a flat trail and short mileage. The system, built primarily for mountain biking, has become a popular destination for runners, hikers, dog walkers and nature enthusiasts.


Ohio River Water Trail
The 69-mile Ohio River Water Trail supports recreation on 46 miles of the Ohio River, three miles of the Beaver River, four miles of Raccoon Creek, and 16 miles of Little Beaver Creek. Multiple partners manage 21 access points connecting 32 riverfront communities. The trail honors the rich history of its associated waterways, enriches the present, and provides a precious gift to future generations.


Mount Si Trail
Just a 40-minute drive from Seattle, the four-mile Mount Si Trail is one of the most popular hikes in the Pacific Northwest. The main summit of this iconic mountain reveals stunning views of Snoqualmie Valley, the Seattle skyline, and the Olympic Mountains across Puget Sound. The trail’s many switchbacks serve as a training ground for aspiring mountaineers, yet its wide path allows families to get a real taste of the rugged Cascades.

Snoqualmie Valley Trail
King County’s longest trail parallels the Snoqualmie River for more than 31 miles from Duvall to Rattlesnake Lake just outside of North Bend. This majestic trail passes through forests, historic sites and farmland, providing a scenic path for bicycling, walking and horseback riding. The route was once a spur line of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad. Today the trail continues to serve as an arterial route, connecting multiple rural communities and a number of regional trails.


Tribal Heritage Crossing of the Wiouwash Trail
This 1.8-mile multimodal path provides a safe way for runners, walkers, bikers and in-line skaters to cross the causeway bridge over Lake Butte des Morts at Oshkosh. Kiosks at overlooks along the trail offer information on each of Wisconsin’s 11 Native American tribes as well as the natural history of the area, including the lake. The trail provides access to fishing and connects to the Wiouwash State Trail at the north end of the causeway.


Parks threatened by sea-level rise revealed

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National park infrastructure and historic and cultural resources totaling more than $40 billion are at high risk of damage from sea-level rise caused by climate change, says a report just released by the Department of the Interior.

NPS scientists examined conditions at 40 parks, roughly one-third of the 118 national parks considered threatened by sea-level rise. NPS director Jonathan Jarvis commented that in addition to cherished lighthouses, forts, archaeological sites and valuable artifacts, at risk also is the infrastructure essential to daily parks operations (think roads and bridges, visitor centers, docks and the like).

With summer in full swing parks now playing host to millions of visitors stand out. The 10 national seashores listed as “at risk” in the report include Assateague (Md./Va.), Cape Cod (Mass.), Fire Island (N.Y.), Cape Hatteras (N.C.), Cape Lookout (N.C.), Canaveral (Fla.), Cumberland Island (Ga.), Gulf Islands (Fla./Miss.), Point Reyes (Calif.), and Padre Island (Tex.).

Results from analysis of an additional 30 coastal parks will be released later this summer.


A national park childhood

Like many people some of my most vivid childhood memories involve the outdoors—catching frogs and fireflies, playing marathon games of Kick the Can and building sand fortresses along the beach. I was lucky enough to be a ‘national park kid’ and raised to make observations and ask questions about my surroundings: What creatures make their home in that sand and in those waters? What effects do storms have on those resources? What do humans do that causes beach erosion?

When I was seven years old my family spent a summer near Cape Cod National Seashore where I became a Junior Ranger (after taking an oath to “explore, learn and protect” parks). Being a young park ambassador in this wonderland felt as exciting as finding a secret door in the back of a wardrobe leading to a magical land. NPS rangers captivated us with tales of pilgrims and shipwrecks and took us to see box turtles hatchlings take their first tentative steps across warm sand. We tromped through tidal flats and over dunes, learned about lighthouses and cranberry bogs, piping plovers and pitch pine forests. At the end of each day we kids would barely wriggle all the way into our sleeping bags before dropping off to sleep.

That’s more than 30 years ago but if I try hard to remember, my lips still taste the saltiness of those ocean breezes and my toes feel the warm gritty feel of sand still. They are experiences and memories I wish for every child. It’s no mystery how I came to write about science and natural resources, and what fuels my love of daily discoveries be they about nature, culture or history.

Since the first days of the National Park Service—which celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2016, treating parks as living classrooms has been a core value. Today, with more than 80 percent of American families living in urban areas, many lacking easy access to safe outdoor spaces, strategies aimed at getting kids (and adults alike) to discover what national parks have to offer are even more important than they were a century ago.

To that end the White House recently announced the “Every Kid in a Park” initiative which offers all fourth grade students and their families free admission to national parks for a full year (starting with the 2015-2016 school year). That’s 407 areas covering more than 84 million acres in every state, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands including national parks, monuments, battlefields, military parks, historical parks, historic sites, lakeshores, seashores, recreation areas, scenic rivers and trails, and the White House. All for free. That’s quite a bargain.

Support the Every Kid in a Park initiative.

Explore your parks.

Support your parks and the National Park Service.


© Heather Hansen, text and photo (of the author and her sister on Cape Cod National Seashore).





Natchez Trace Parkway, AL, MS & TN

This is generally in the top 10 national park units visited annually but (I must confess) I knew little of it before going there last year. I was one of over 5.8 million people who explored the park in 2014 when it was the eighth most popular national park unit. So what’s the draw?

Turns out this is a frigging fascinating park. It’s actually a 444-mile parkway, a kind of series of parks, which forms a near continuous greenway from the southern Appalachians to the Mississippi River bluffs. It provides habitat for thousands of animal and plant species, crosses eight major watersheds and four ecosystems.

The road runs alongside the natural corridor that was used for thousands of years by people on foot, horseback and wagons. There are spots where you can get out of your car and walk the Old Trace, sunken over time like a sun half-set, beneath the footsteps of countless travelers.

There are 10,000 years of history and likely just as many stories that could be told about life on the Trace. Once the traditional stomping-grounds of the Natchez, Chickasaw, and Choctaw nations, the popularity of the route rose in the 1820s when having sold their crops and other wares at New Orleans or Natchez, people (the so-called “Kaintucks”) would walk home to the Ohio River Valley along the Trace. Over time generals, future presidents and at least one famous explorer (who died under suspicious circumstances along it) plied this path.

When to go?

I traveled the Trace from north to south in early June and it felt mostly deserted. While I landed on it in Nashville in a rush it didn’t take long for that feeling to subside. It’s as if each gentle curve snatches away some of time’s momentum. It was warm and humid, for sure, but there’s much shady shelter to be had.

In spring the Trace is in bloom and, in fall, in colorful submission to cooling temps. Winter weather can close parts of the Trace so travel then would have to be more strategic.

The NPS provides info on food, gas and lodging. Details about biking the Trace are also available. There are many, many places to pause and learn along the way and ranger-led activities are plenty.

What not to miss? The Meriwether Lewis Monument and visitor kiosk near Grinder’s Stand in Tennessee at Milepost 385.9. The luminescent cypress swamps. And some of the seven mound groups—the prominent cultural remains of the first residents of Mississippi.

© Heather Hansen, text and photograph

Explore your parks and the National Park Service.

Support your parks and the NPS.



When soldiers guarded parks

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Army bicyclists on Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces, Yellowstone National Park, around 1896 (photographer unknown). For decades prior to the founding of the National Park Service, the military patrolled parks.

Learn more about this time period and more in Prophets & Moguls, Rangers & Rogues, Bison & Bears: 100 Years of the National Park Service.

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