A New Year’s gift for all

The Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 3979), signed in the waning days of last year, didn’t get much press for what it did for national parks, but it should have.

The legislation designated seven new parks and authorized the expansion of nine others. It’s the largest expansion of the national park system in nearly 40 years and includes the addition of some 250,000 acres of protected wilderness.

The fascinating additions:

Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park (MA and RI)—This park will weave together stories of America’s first successful cotton spinning mill, powered by the Blackstone, that set in motion the American Industrial Revolution and shifted work from farm to factory.

Coltsville National Historical Park (CT)—The Industrial Revolution will also be explored here along the Connecticut River where Samuel Colt created the famous revolver which was, some said, the “gun that won the West.”

Harriet Tubman National Historical Park (NY)—After her remarkable work as conductor on the Underground Railroad and Union spy and organizer during the Civil War, Tubman spent 50 years in Auburn where the new park will be developed. The real-life heroine and champion of human rights is also buried there.

Manhattan Project National Historical Park (WA, NM, TN)—The development of the atomic bomb during WWII has a fascinating history including renowned scientists, the rise of nuclear weapons and the dawn of the era of “big science. The project, which has the national laboratories as part of its legacy, managed to remain top secret while it employed 130,000 people and spent over $2 billion.

Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument (NV)—It’s hard to imagine this desert landscape just outside Las Vegas was once wetlands trolled by Ice Age beasts. That means mammoths, camelops, saber tooth cats, bison, horses, llamas, wolves, elephant-sized ground sloths and 1,100 pound-American lions roamed here, where some of their fossilized remains endure. As it’s developed this will be a particularly fascinating site where visitors can see paleontologists at work unearthing glimpses of time past.

Valles Caldera National Preserve, NM—At first glance, this now-peaceful preserve in the Jemez Mountains reveals little of its violent past when a million years ago a spectacular eruption blasted a 14-mile-wide gulf in the landscape. It is one of the world’s seven supervolcanoes where there are now hot springs, cold streams, abundant elk, gorgeous grasslands, pleasing peaks and old-growth forest to explore.

World War I Memorial, Pershing Park (Washington, DC)—The change to this park is a big deal. Despite having stirring memorials to Americans who fought in several major conflicts, the capital has never before had a monument to honor the sacrifices of all 4.7 million troops (including 320,710 total casualties) who fought in the first world war.

Learn more about the new parks and exciting expansions.

Explore your parks.

Support your parks and the National Park Service.

© Heather Hansen

Image courtesy Thomas Shahan.