Friday, August 19, 2016


NATIONAL PARK SERVICE CENTENNIAL – August 25, 2016 - and I wrote this article for our community magazine. Have you seen and heard the advertisement running for the National Parks Service? I love it! It's Happy Birthday, with each note of the song taken from a sound from the parks - from a chickadee's chirp to a lighthouse fog horn, from a floor polisher at the Smithsonian to the sound of the cast of a fly fishing lure. Very clever.  See and hear it here.

One hundred years ago this month, the National Park Service was created “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”  There are fifty-eight national parks in the National Park Service, the majority of them west of the Mississippi in the wide open spaces. As you would expect, the largest park, Wrangell-St. Elias, is in Alaska. Alaska boasts eight national parks. Hot Springs in Arkansas is the smallest, and is the only national park within an urban area. Arkansas, like South Carolina, has only one state park.  Many states have none.

Though this is the centennial month of the National Park Service, it is said that October is the best month to visit a state park. The crowds have thinned out and the weather is excellent. This is a good time to begin planning for a fall visit to a national park. There are only a dozen national parks east of the Mississippi. Nearby, just east of Columbia, our state boasts Congaree National Park, a temperate climate swamp, with some of the largest hardwood specimens in the country. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is just under three hours away from us in Sun City Carolina Lakes. Both are ideal destinations for autumn day trips.

Frank at South Carolina's only National Park  the swampy Congaree
Further exploration of any of our national parks will require more than a day trip. Shenandoah National Park is a drive of about five hours – you wouldn’t want to do that in a day, and Everglades National Park, the largest subtropical wilderness in our country, is at least eleven hours by car. A bit further south, historic Biscayne and Dry Tortugas National Parks, the latter accessible only by seaplane or boat, are home to marvelous marine areas for snorkeling, camping and other outdoor recreation.

Pit a pin in a map where Nevada and Colorado meet Idaho, and you will be surrounded by national parks out west: little ones like Great Basin in Nevada, and big ones like Death Valley, the largest in the contiguous states, and our first national park, Yosemite. You are almost spoiled for choices out there. West of the Mississippi, on the mainland, there are three dozen national parks. You are sure to be able to visit several of them in one well-planned trip.

Yellowstone's Old Faithful. Old Faithful was on my list of places to see,
and I'm happy to say experienced it. 

But more than overseeing the national parks, the National Park Service, under the Department of the Interior, is responsible for forts, battlefields, military parks, monuments, historic sites, and trails, be they large and small, in all fifty states. They see to places like Ellis Island and the Appalachian Trail, and Gettysburg and Kitty Hawk in the east, and Mesa Verde, Little Big Horn, Alcatraz and the Muir Woods in the west. A full state by state listing of the sites they administer, sites to which you might want to plan a trip, can be found at their website. Simple to remember:
Teddy Roosevelt's home, Sagamore Hill, was the closest National Park Service site
to where I lived on Long Island. I was always fascinated by the house and its furnishings
 - well, maybe not so much by all the animal trophies.
From my first visit there, I was always delighted to visit another old house, mansion, castle - anything that taught me how other people lived in times gone by throughout the world.

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