Tag Archives: national parks

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.

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!




Parks for war and peace

The NPS is the keeper of national memories. From the Minute Man National Historical Park which explores the opening battle of the Revolutionary War to Gettysburg, the Vietnam Memorial and Pearl Harbor, those memories are of war.

On this Memorial Day during the NPS centennial year, I’m recalling all of those powerful park units I’ve been to which explore the history of battles fought at home and aboard, and where visitors can contemplate the meaning of war, and the sacrifices of soldiers and the people they left behind.

I’m also reflecting on the stories I’ve been told about the healing power of parks. From the curators of objects left along the Wall at the Vietnam Memorial, to soldiers once deployed in the Middle East reuniting at Dinosaur National Monument, it’s clear that national parks are special spaces for remembering and for renewal.

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

Photo courtesy of the NPS. 

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

Like clean water? Tell Congress. Here’s how.

traveltoparks ourbestplaces

For roughly a decade the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have been working on clarifying and strengthening certain aspects of the Clean Water Act, specifically by more clearly defining the term “waters of the United States.” The new rule would include protection for “headwaters,” and seasonal and rain-dependent waters which have a direct impact on downstream water quality. The agencies based the Clean Water Rule on robust science, hundreds of meetings with stakeholders and roughly 800,000 public comments, and introduced it in June.

Yesterday a joint resolution passed the Senate (S.J. Res. 22) which “Nullifies the rule submitted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency relating to the definition of “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act…” Not only would this move send the ACE and EPA back the drawing board but it also jeopardizes some of current rule making capabilities under the Clean Water Act.

Far from remote or occasional supplies, these are water sources which contribute to the drinking water of one in three Americans. They also greatly affect the water quality in streams, rivers, lakes and reservoirs in national parks (more than half of which are already currently considered “impaired” under the Clean Water Act). That means that anyone swimming and fishing in that water is taking an unnecessary health risk. Is that really the condition we want to keep our national parks in?

If not, tell your representative to reject S.J. 22.

Learn more from the National Park Service about water protection in national parks.

Find your park.


Image of Browns Canyon NM courtesy BLM/US Forest Service.

Weigh in on drilling in national parks

traveltoparks ourbestplaces

National parks have cultural, historical, natural and economic value, making it hard to believe that oil and gas development within them is not only possible but presently scantly regulated.

The NPS governs the surface resources in parks but not those underground. That means if mineral rights in a national park are owned by a state or private entity, oil and gas development could be possible there.

The NPS wants to make changes to the way the process is regulated. In its proposed rule, the NPS lays out the changes and lists parks, including Grand Teton, Mesa Verde and the Great Sand Dunes, which are open to future drilling. The rule would subject developers to stricter regulation, eliminate a restoration spending cap, and fine operators for even minor violations.

If you value parks, take a minute or two to comment on the proposal through Dec. 28, 2015.

Photo courtesy NPS, drilling rig in Padre Island National Seashore.

Let’s Close the National Parks

traveltoparks ourbestplaces

History tends to repeat itself. A half-century ago national parks were receiving a record number of visitors but amid inadequate funding their facilities were falling apart.

One popular writer had a radical idea: “Let’s Close the National Parks” wrote Bernard DeVoto in the October 1953 issue of Harper’s Magazine. “The deterioration of roads and plants that began with the war years, when proper maintenance was impossible, has been accelerated by the enormous increase in visitors, by the shrinkage of staffs, and by miserly appropriations that have prevented both repair and expansion of facilities…[Congress] requires the Service to operate a big plant on a hot-dog-stand budget,” he wrote.

As a result, DeVoto said, “So much of the priceless heritage which the Service must safeguard for the United States is beginning to go to hell.” His proposed solution? “The national park system must be temporarily reduced to a size for which Congress is willing to pay. Let us, as a beginning, close Yellowstone, Yosemite, Rocky Mountain, and Grand Canyon National Parks—close and seal them, assign the Army to patrol them, and so hold them secure till they can be reopened.”

Today faced with slashed budgets, aging facilities and visitor throngs, the NPS and the individual parks it is mandated to protect face daily struggles. Is the solution, as DeVoto suggested over 50 years ago, to keep open only the parks for which Congress is willing to pay? If the outcry over park closures during a government shutdown in 2013 are any indication, this wouldn’t go over well with the many millions of Americans who want their parks open and accessible. But the mere suggestion still may be worth making. Just three years after DeVoto’s manifesto appeared, the NPS launched a $1 billion, congressionally-funded decade of maintenance and construction (called Mission 66) in advance of its 50th anniversary in 1966. No such overture has been made by Congress in advance of the park service’s 100th birthday next year. Is it time to close some parks to the public to get them the attention they deserve?

Photo courtesy of the NPS.

Record-breaking year for parks

Last year the number of national park visits blasted out the water the previous record set in 1987. In that year parks saw 287.2 million; last year that number jumped to 292.8 million.

The number of visits last year also showed a rebound of seven percent (19 million) from 2013, when a 16-day government shutdown and Super Storm Sandy a year earlier contributed to a marked decline in visitors.

When the numbers were made public, National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis commented, “As the National Park Service strives to share a more inclusive and well-rounded version of the American story through the places we care for, it is gratifying to see more people than ever coming to their national parks to enjoy nature, learn about history, and spend time with their families.”

I was one of those many visitors to parks last year. Read more about my travels during that time.

Explore your parks and the National Park Service.

Support your parks and the NPS.

Photo © Heather Hansen. An NPS ranger gives a talk to a crowd at Fort Sumter National Monument.