Happy Anniversary, National Park Service

African-American church in CUIS
African-American church in CUIS

A week from today, Thursday August 25, 2016 is the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.

Here in the Southern Appalachians, we’re blessed have Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway. But we have several other national park units so close by.

By August 1916, the Department of Interior oversaw 14 national parks, 21 national monuments, and the Hot Springs and Casa Grande Ruin reservations, but there wasn’t a system to take care of them. Only one was in the East, the precursor to Acadia National Park, and none was in the Southeast at the time.  See this site if you’re interested in the national monuments at the time.

But look at the Southeast now. We have over 70 national parks, monuments, seashores, battlefields, and historic sites. Seven are designated national parks: Mammoth Caves (KY), Great Smoky Mountains (NC/TN), Congaree (SC), Biscayne (FL), Everglades (FL), Dry Tortugas (FL), Virgin Islands (US VI).

Elizabeth Johnson's bedroom
Elizabeth Johnson’s bedroom

Less than 60 miles from Asheville, Andrew Johnson National Historic Site in Greeneville, TN preserves the house and grounds of our seventeenth president.

So he wasn’t the greatest leader; probably all you can remember is that he was the first president to be impeached. The historic site tells such a compelling story of the times after Abraham Lincoln’s death. After visiting his home, vote on whether Johnson was guilty or not guilty of impeachment charges. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch Ranger Dan Luther, a former actor, dressed as Pres. Johnson.

As they say, 90 percent of life is showing up.

Everglades National Park
Everglades National Park

The best way to support our parks is to visit your local national park.

Everybody has a park unit reasonably close by. Hike the trails, walk the battlefield, study that monument. Thank the rangers or volunteers behind the desk for being here. We’ve been hearing so much about how crowded the national parks are going to be this year. Parks are not crowded.

Even in the Smokies, the most visited traditional national park in the country, only the roads and visitor centers are busy. Walk a mile from the trailhead and you’ll see almost no one. Arrive at a visitor center at nine a.m. and you’ll have the ranger’s full attention.

The National Park Service preserves and protects not only the scenery and views but also our country’s history. Each park is unique. There’s a reason why each unit is part of the National Park Service. My most memorable visits are where I was able to engage a ranger or a volunteer in conversation.

National parks in the south aren’t just about war and politics.

At Carl Sandburg
At Carl Sandburg

Carl Sandburg, a writer, poet and folksinger, is associated with the Midwest. When most men in their late sixties slow down, he and his family started a new life in Flat Rock. Carl Sandburg Home is well known for the goats that romp in the fields. A short trail takes you to where Sandburg was inspired to write:

It is necessary now and then for a man to go away by himself and experience loneliness; to sit on a rock in the forest and ask of himself, “Who am I, and where have I been, and where am I going?

I encourage you to spend some quality time in our smaller park units, take a walk on their trails, and talk to the folks behind the desk.

And wish the national park service a happy anniversary.

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