Tag Archives: National Park Service

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.

National park rogues, not new, but necessary

A century ago Congress created the National Park Service (NPS) “to conserve the scenery and natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein…” Back then there were 35 national parks and monuments, now there are over 400. These include, of course, Yellowstone and Yosemite, the so-called “natural” parks where the NPS is sworn to safeguard biodiversity, wild rivers, and carbon sinks (a.k.a. forests). They are America’s environmental legacy.

The NPS also has under its wing other types of parks including Civil War battlefields, cliff dwellings, Japanese internment camps, presidential hideaways, Spanish missions, and towering monuments. These parks tell the story of America.

All together they are for gawking, for sure, at glaciers, bears and Half Dome but they are also for learning about, among other things, glaciation, immigration, civil rights, war and, yes, climate change. Parks are meant to instill a sense of both time and timelessness, and a respect for places and things which have existed long before we had bones, and will exist long after we are dust.

But these dear places are not static, secured beneath bubbles, untouchable. Like it or not, from redwoods to the Statue of Liberty, and from glaciers to the Everglades, parks are already being adversely affected by record heat, drought, wildfires and storms. Talking about climate change is not a political act. We can debate what to do about the facts, but not whether or not they are facts; it’s too late for that. And silencing any discussion of climate change will only harm national parks, the places where so many Americans (and others from around the world) now find common ground.

By defying a gag order the NPS (as someone representing Badlands National Park did this week) is not only an act of upholding 100 years of fierce protection of our best places but it is fulfilling its congressional mandate. Trying to mute the NPS insults the prophets and moguls and the rangers and rogues who have spent over a century protecting parks and telling America’s stories. Silencing scientists also puts at risk, for centuries to come, the bison and bears and the seashores and coral reefs, which are owned by all of us.

Heather Hansen is the author of Prophets and Moguls, Rangers and Rogues, Bison and Bears: 100 Years of the National Park Service.

Learn more about climate change and parks.

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

Cover image courtesy of Office for Emergency Management. Office of War Information. Domestic Operations Branch. Bureau of Special Services. 3/9/1943-9/15/1945.

Repeating history

December 7 is my birthday and, though I came into the world more than three decades after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the first thing most Americans say when they hear this fact is, “A day that will live in infamy.” My history nerdy-ness may be attributed in part to this association, as well as the fact I was a ‘national park kid’ soaking up events and people past around the country.

Most people think of national parks as Yosemite and Yellowstone but the 100-year-old National Park Service is also the steward of many key historical sites, including the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, where 1,177 soldiers and Marines lost their lives in 1941. The Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island, Independence Hall/Liberty Bell and Gettysburg are also all national park units. There are internment camps, Native American massacre sites, and a 17th-century African burial ground, as well. These are the places where decisions were made, ends arrived, dues were paid, and new beginnings were forged. The NPS is the keeper of these national memories, the interpreter of our infamies and victories.

The first female justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Sandra Day O’Connor wrote, “There is no better route to civic understanding than visiting our national parks. They’re who we are and where we’ve been.” This present moment is a good one in which to claim what the NPS has to offer. Go stand in Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence was actually signed and learn (all over again) about what kind of country the Founders envisioned. You’ll be reminded that Thomas Jefferson called for a “wall of separation between Church and State” and James Madison for “a free exercise of religion.” These were sacred principles (so to speak).

Roam the prairie at Sand Creek National Historic Site in Colorado; the edge of the desert at Manzanar National Historic Site in California; or the rolling hills of Antietam National Battlefield in Maryland and consider events that should not be repeated. Visit the haunts of Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriet Tubman, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Chávez (all have national park units dedicated to them) and be inspired to speak out and push forward toward equality for all people. If we keep revisiting these moments and concepts, if we keep them top of mind, we may eventually learn from them.

Photo courtesy NPS, USS Arizona Memorial.

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

Happy Birthday, National Park Service!

Long may we roam!

My most recent park adventure… the incomparable Glacier NP!


Find Your Park.

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

Great tool for national park travels

Maps! Sure, I use the digital kind but, given the option, I prefer the wrinkly, coffee-stained paper versions. (Especially in national parks where I love to examine them in a tent by headlamp after dark.)

But there are times, say, in a stiff wind or when wanting to email someone about plans, that a digital version comes in handy. That’s where npmaps.com comes in. It allows users to quickly find and download national park maps. The site now has nearly 1,200 free, high-res maps to choose from.

Even if you’re just daydreaming about a park trip, check ’em out!




National parks, suffering again, need outrage and action

“I’ve seen the insides of a lot of national parks. I don’t just mean the good stuff: the herds of bison at Yellowstone making the ground tremble; the immense, lolling tongues of glaciers in Wrangell-St. Elias; the goose-bump-raising room imbued with the spirits of Franklin and Jefferson where our republic began…” READ MORE of Heather Hansen’s recent guest commentary in the Denver Post.


Learn more about the amazing history of the NPS and U.S. conservation: Prophets and Moguls, Rangers and Rogues, Bison and Bears: 100 Years of the National Park Service.

Photo of Yellowstone bison, courtesy Neal Herbert, NPS.

Free mountains, sequoias during National Park Week

Want a free mountain? How about a canyon for nothing?

Well these are your lucky days: National Park Week lasts through April 24–that’s 410 national park units from coast-to-coast (and more) completely free for visitors.

All week I’ve been thinking about the mountains, rivers and wildlife we have in my home state, Colorado. And the dinosaur bones, fossils and dunes. I’ve been playing hooky (at least in my mind); daydreaming about hiking in Rocky Mountain and Great Sand Dunes national parks, and in the spectacular canyons of the Green and Yampa rivers in Dinosaur National Monument. So many reasons to get out there.

Need inspiration? FindYourPark.

Learn more about the NPS and its 100th birthday this year.

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

Photo of Rocky Mountain NP by Heather Hansen.

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.

It’s official: 307M park visits in 2015

traveltoparks ourbestplaces

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

6 national parks celebrating Black History Month

traveltoparks ourbestplaces

In honor of Black History Month, let’s look at some national park units celebrating African Americans who helped mold this nation with grit, intelligence and, often, wit.

Here are several of my favorites:

African Burial Ground National MonumentNew York. An intense spot for contemplation amid the bustle of Lower Manhattan.

Boston African American National Historic Site, Massachusetts. In the heart of Boston, these sites celebrate freedom. They include the oldest African American church in the US, which dates from 1806.

Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, District of Columbia. Douglass’ home is so well preserved that it feels as if the great human rights activist has stepped away for just a moment.

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, West Virginia and Maryland. This is a fascinating place where energy, nature, personalities and ideologies have converged time-and-again.

Lincoln Memorial, District of Columbia. Larger than life. Period.

Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve, Florida. Equal parts thrilling and chilling where the lines of slavery became blurred.

There are many more National Park Service sites celebrating African American heritage. Explore them here. 

A few of my favorite Frederick Douglass quotes:

“People might not get all they work for in this world, but they must certainly work for all they get.”

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

“The American people have this to learn: that where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob, and degrade them, neither person nor property is safe.”

Find your park. 

Photo courtesy of the NPS.

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


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