Category Archives: Park Headlines

Hopewell Culture moving toward World Heritage status

Great news for an outstanding but often overlooked unit of the National Park Service– Hopewell Culture National Historical Park (NHP) in Ohio.

The Department of the Interior announced today that it has selected this group of ancient American Indian sites for nomination to the World Heritage List. That’s the list that recognizes cultural and natural sites of universal importance, like the Grand Canyon and the Galápagos.

I wrote this reflection about my time Hopewell a couple of years ago. It’s one of my “heart” places, as I’ve come to call them, those those inexplicably familiar spots where you’ve always been, even on your first visit:

Hopewell Culture National Historical Park is a place few people encounter by accident. A kind of worthy pilgrimage must be made to south-central Ohio where the Scioto River wends its unhurried way through a storied valley still thrumming with mysteries.

Roughly 2,000 years ago this area was a hub of American Indian activity. “Hopewell” is the name for the culture which spanned much of eastern North American but its heartland was here. There were small villages with homes of wattle and thatch where residents grew crops including squash and sunflower, hunted deer and fished, and lived amicably with shared goals. The realization of those lofty goals remains imprinted on the landscape.

What the national park protects are Hopewell’s ceremonial places—complex “monumental earthworks” constructed entirely by hand. These are huge geometric enclosures of embankments and earthen mounds, the remnants of structures used for celebrations and various rites of passage.  This ancient architecture includes some of the oldest human-made structures in North America.

The mind grasps for comprehension of the scale of planning, engineering and physical labor necessary to construct these sacred complexes. Millions of tons of earth were moved and remolded with precision using standard units of measure to build precise circles, squares, rectangles, even octagons, the size of football fields. Some of the sites were aligned for astronomical observations. The ingenuity, awareness and devotion expressed are nothing short of epic.

Hopewell Culture NHP has a pulse. The blood and sweat of past inhabitants seems to course through it to this day. While there I recalled Machu Picchu, Stonehenge, Altun Ha, places with soul. Standing among those mounds and considering the tenacity and collaboration required to build and maintain these centers, one generation after the next, was akin to craning my neck to marvel at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. This small national park is one of those rare places where the past and present command equal time in the consciousness of the visitor.

Archaeologists who excavated them found the mounds packed with artifacts offering clues about the beliefs, ethics, rituals, talents and habits of those early Ohioans. The materials themselves are extraordinary—shark teeth from the Atlantic coast, marine shells from the Gulf of Mexico, copper from the north, quartz and mica from the Carolinas and, perhaps most astounding, obsidian from the Yellowstone basin. Once the exotic materials were tracked down the hands of the Hopewell took to crafting them into objects, often depicting deer, bear or bird, as captivating as any Rodin or Brancusi.

I spent a year on the road, driving roughly 20,000 miles from one national park to another, collecting stories for my book on the National Park Service. I was a national park kid (I became a junior ranger at age 7 at Cape Cod National Seashore). Hopewell Culture was the 167thnational park unit I’ve explored and, just like my time on Cape Cod decades ago, it offered some of that alchemy of childhood when revelations can come from any angle and journeys are limited only by imagination.

New park honors women’s struggle for equality

On the occasion of Equal Pay Day, the National Park Service has announced a new national monument: the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument in Washington, D.C.

From the NPS:

“Tucked behind the U.S. Capitol building is a 200-year-old house that stands as a testament to our nation’s continued struggle for equality. Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument (NM) tells the compelling story of a community of women who dedicated their lives to the fight for women’s rights. The innovative tactics and strategies these women devised became the blueprint for women’s progress throughout the 20th century.

History of the House

Built on Capitol Hill in 1800, the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality NM is among the oldest residential properties in Washington, D.C. The house was nearly destroyed by British forces during the War of 1812. In the 20th century, the house became the headquarters of the National Woman’s Party, a political movement that fought for equal rights for women.

Robert Sewall, a member from one of Maryland’s most influential and prominent families, built the original house at 2nd Street and Constitution Avenue, NE in 1800. Sewall rented the house to Albert Gallatin from 1801 until 1813. Gallatin served as Secretary of the Treasury under Presidents Jefferson and Madison. During the War of 1812, the house was damaged and nearly destroyed by fire during the British invasion of Washington in August 1814. It was one of the only buildings from which the occupants made an attempt to resist the British army.

The Sewall family descendants owned the house for over 120 years. In 1922, Senator and Mrs. Porter Dale of Vermont purchased and rehabilitated the house after it had been vacant for a decade.

The Dales sold the house to the National Woman’s Party (NWP) to use as their headquarters in 1929. The NWP renamed the property the “Alva Belmont House” in honor of Alva Belmont, a benefactor of the NWP. Belmont donated thousands of dollars to women’s equality and gave the NWP the ability to purchase the new headquarters. The house also functioned as a hotel and second home for some members.

National Woman’s Party

Alice Paul founded the NWP in 1913 to address equality issues and women’s suffrage. Paul is one of the most significant figures in gaining women the right to vote with the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. The NWP continued to fight to guarantee equal rights for women through gender equality in both the United Nations Charter and the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The NWP remained in the house for over 90 years as a prominent presence on Capitol Hill. Tucked among federal office buildings, the U.S. Supreme Court, and the U.S. Capitol, the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality NM, now stands as a memorial to the dedication of Alice Paul and the National Woman’s Party.”

Photo courtesy Library of Congress, Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality NM.

USPS putting their stamp(s) on national parks

Over the next few weeks the US Postal Service is offering a sneak peek at the 16 forever stamps (intended to represent the diversity of areas in the national park system) they’ll be releasing during this NPS centennial year.

Seen so far:

Everglades National Park, Florida (of grasses and pinelands)


Acadia National Park, Maine (of Bass Harbor Head Light)


Arches National Park, Utah (of Delicate Arch)


Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland and Virginia (of wild horses)


Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico (of Frijoles Canyon Visitor Center)


Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico (of the caverns’ interior)



Fee free days for National Park Week

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From April 16 to 24 all national parks are free! All 400+ of them: gratis. Learn more at the NPS site.

Want to do more than just visit? Learn about other opportunities for getting involved in parks.

Find Your Park.


It’s official: 307M park visits in 2015

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This just in from the National Park Service:

President Theodore Roosevelt was reelected in 1904, the same year rangers started counting national park visitors.

There were more than 120,000 visits to America’s 11 national parks in the first year of counting. This week, the National Park Service (NPS) certified 2015 national park visitation at more than 307 million. It also released its popular Top 10 list of the most visited national park sites.

“The popularity of national parks is well known, but last year’s numbers really are extraordinary,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “As the National Park Service celebrates its 100th year, we’re preparing to welcome more visitors than ever including a new generation of park supporters and advocates who are discovering their own national park adventures.”

Today’s figures were an increase from the unofficial visitation total of 305 million reported by the NPS in January. The difference is attributed to the recently-completed NPS visitation audit.

2015 visitation highlights include:

  • 307,247,252 recreation visits, a 4.9 percent increase over 2014 and the previous record of 292.8 million recreation visits.
  • 371 of the 410 parks in the National Park System report visitation.
  • 57 of the 371 reporting parks set a new record for annual recreation visits. Eleven parks had more than 5 million recreation visits in 2015.

Notable park milestones in 2015:

–Joshua Tree National Park surpassed 2 million annual recreation visits for the first time.

–Rocky Mountain National Park surpassed 4 million annual recreation visits for the first time.

–Yellowstone National Park surpassed 4 million annual recreation visits for the first time.

–Grand Canyon National Park surpassed 5 million annual recreation visits for the first time.

–Glacier National Park surpassed 100 million total recreation visits (1910 to 2015)

–2 parks are reporting visitation for the first time:

  1. Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument
  2. Waco Mammoth National Monument

Most visited parks:

All Parks of the National Park System:

1. Blue Ridge Parkway – 15,054,603

2. Golden Gate National Recreation Area – 14,888,537

3. Great Smoky Mountains National Park – 10,712,674

4. Lincoln Memorial – 7,941,771

5. Lake Mead National Recreation Area – 7,298,465

6. George Washington Memorial Parkway – 7,286,463

7. Gateway National Recreation Area – 6,392,565

8. Natchez Trace Parkway – 5,785,812

9. Vietnam Veterans Memorial – 5,597,077

10. Grand Canyon National Park – 5,520,736

National Parks:

1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park – 10,712,674

2. Grand Canyon National Park – 5,520,736

3. Rocky Mountain National Park – 4,155,916

4. Yosemite National Park – 4,150,217

5. Yellowstone National Park – 4,097,710

6. Zion National Park – 3,648,846

7. Olympic National Park – 3,263,761

8. Grand Teton National Park – 3,149,921

9. Acadia National Park – 2,811,184

10. Glacier National Park – 2,366,056

A preservation trio in the California desert

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Today President Obama used the authority of the Antiquities Act of 1906 to designate three new national monuments in the California desert: Mojave Trails National Monument, Sand to Snow National Monument and Castle Mountains National Monument.

The new protected areas will connect Joshua Tree National Park, Mojave National Preserve and 15 congressionally-designated wilderness areas. In combination, the tracts will create a 10 million-acre desert ecosystem that will provide critical corridors for species with lengthy ranges including mountain lions and bighorn sheep.


The new monuments cover canyons and dunes, rock spires and petroglyphs, Joshua Trees and Cholla cacti, and 30 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail.

As detailed in a White House blog today:

Mojave Trails NM: “Spanning 1.6 million acres, including 400,000 acres of previously congressionally-designated Wilderness, the Mojave Trails National Monument is comprised of a stunning mosaic of rugged mountain ranges, ancient lava flows, and spectacular sand dunes.”

Sand to Snow NM: “Encompassing 154,000 acres, including just over 100,000 acres of already congressionally-designated Wilderness, Sand to Snow National Monument is an ecological and cultural treasure and one of the most biodiverse areas in southern California, supporting more than 240 species of birds and 12 threatened and endangered wildlife species.”

Castle Mountains NM: “The 20,920-acre monument will serve as a critical connection between two mountain ranges, protecting water resources, plants, and wildlife such as golden eagles, bighorn sheep, mountain lions, and bobcats.”

Of the designations, the president said, “…it’s our responsibility to protect these treasures for future generations, just as previous generations protected them for us.”

Find your park.

Photo of the Mojave Trails National Monument courtesy DOI.

Sledding in Paradise on Mount Rainier

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For the first time since early 2014, the snowplay slope at Mount Rainier National Park is open! After a New Year’s snow dump, there are now over 120 inches of snow on the flanks of The Mountain (Washington’s highest) at Paradise.

Check @MountRainierNPS where the park tweets slope and road conditions and requirements.

If you can’t get there, live vicariously though the park’s webcams.

Photo of Paradise snowplay, courtesy NPS.

Buy the book! Prophets and Moguls, Rangers and Rogues, Bison and Bears: 100 Years of the National Park Service.

Fisher comeback in the North Cascades

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Once found in forests throughout Washington state, fishers haven’t been seen there in decades. Excessive trapping and habitat loss is believed to have caused the population drop of this brown, bushy-tailed member of the weasel family.

Wildlife managers, including some with the National Park Service, are now turning back the ecological clock. In these final weeks of the year 40 fishers from British Columbia are being released in and near Mount Rainier National Park. Later on, North Cascades National Park will get a batch. Reintroduction efforts have proven successful in Olympic National Park, where 90 fishers were released over several years starting in 2008.

Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Buy the book! Prophets and Moguls, Rangers and Rogues, Bison and Bears: 100 Years of the National Park Service.

National parks fee-free for 16 days in 2016

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All national parks will waive their entrance fees on 16 special days in 2016.

The 16 entrance fee-free days for 2016 are:

  • January 18 – Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
  • April 16 through 24 – National Park Week
  • August 25 through 28 – National Park Service Birthday (and following weekend)
  • September 24 – National Public Lands Day
  • November 11 – Veterans Day

“Fee-free days provide an extra incentive to visit a national park, especially during next year’s centennial celebration,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “We added extra fee-free days so that everyone has a chance to join the party. With locations in every state, finding a national park is easy. The hard part might be deciding which ones to visit.”


Support the National Park Foundation.

Photo of Rocky Mountain National Park ©Heather Hansen.

U.S. and Cuba join forces to protect marine areas

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This week marked a watershed in international cooperation in marine conservation.

The National Park Service (NPS) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has partnered with Cuba’s Ministry of Science, Technology, and Environment to foster understanding and conservation of natural marine resources in both nations.

They plan to share technical and scientific data related to Marine Protected Areas and to promote education and outreach initiatives.

Learn more about the parks involved and the Memorandum of Understanding.

Find your park.

Image courtesy NOAAA lobster pokes out of its hiding spot under a coral head in the Dry Tortugas, Florida.


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