Liven Up Your Passport with Commemorative Stickers

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An example of how special commemorative stamps can liven up the pages of your Parks Pasport.

The Passport to Your National Parks program offers at least one passport stamp at each of the national parks in the U.S. National Park System.  One of the beauties of the program is its consistency.   At the same time, however, its hard to deny that there isn’t something a little boring about the Passport stamps themselves – each of them are the same round circle with text around the upper border, text around the lower border, and a date across the middle.

Thus, to liven up the pages of your Parks Passport Book, the creators of the Passpor Program, Eastern National, annually offer for sale a set of ten commemorative stamps to live up the pages of your Parks Passport.  In the early days of the Passport Program, back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, these comemorative stamps were sold in the same style and format as postage stamps – with special envelope mounts for mounting them in your Passport.   Nowadays, the commemorative stamps are sold in an easy-to-use sticker format.

Each commemorative stamp features a photo of a national park, as well as a short explanatory blurb about the park.   The photos are selected each year from submissions made by National Park Service employees and volunteers.   Each year there is one commemorative stamp for each of the nine geographical regions in the Passport Program, as well a tenth, large-format, national stamp each year – typically for a national park celebrating a special anniversary that year.

Anyhow, the news this week is that Eastern National has announced the nine new commemorative stamps for 2015:

The selection of Appomattox Courthouse as the 2015 National Commemorative Stamp is no surprise.   On April 9, 1865 Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant, effectively ending the CIvil War 150 years ago in 2015.

Likwise, the selection of Ford’s Theatre NHS also makes perfect sense, as it was the site, 150 years ago on April 14, 1865 of President Lincoln’s Assasination.   Somewhat interestingly, this makes Ford’s Theatre a relatively rare park to now have two commemorative annual regional stickers, as Ford’s Theatre was previously the featured sticker for the National Capital Region in 1993.   A duplication was somewhat inevitable, however, as 2015 is the 30the year that commemorative stamps/stickers have been issued, there are only 24 national parks in the National Capital Region, and the last national park in the National Capital Region to get its own sticker, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Memorial Grove on the Potomac, finally got its own sticker last year.

The LBJ Memoria Grove on the Potomac features a large stone obelisk, and in 2014 it became the last  national park in the National Capital Region to get its own commemorative stamp.
The LBJ Memoria Grove on the Potomac features a large stone obelisk, and in 2014 it became the last national park in the National Capital Region to get its own commemorative stamp.

 

The only other park to have been featured twice on regional stickers under the same name is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which was the National Capital Region sticker on the first commemorative stamp/sticker set way back in 1986, and then was featured again in 1994 – marking the addition of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial statue the previous year in 1983.  Four other national parks in Washington, DC have had different individual memorials within those parks featured on the annual commemorative stamps in different years.   Meanwhile, its worth noting that Fort Clatsop National Memorial, which marks the place where the explorers Lewis & Clark finally reached the Pacific Ocean, was featured on the 1992 sticker for the Pacific Northwest & Alaska Region.   After the name of this national park was changed by Congress to Lewis & Clark National Historical Park, it was featured again on a commemorative regional sticker in 2010.

Interestingly, the Southwest, North Atlantic, Midwest, and Rocky Mountain Region all have between 39 and 43 national parks in them.  Thus, all four of those regions will likely reach the point of having each national park within those regions on at least one commemorative regional sticker within the next 10 years or so.

In the meantime, enjoy filling in your Passport Books with the latest set of commemorative stickers.

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Big Thicket National Preserve

Big Thicket National Preserve protects the lowland habitats of east Texas.
Big Thicket National Preserve protects the lowland habitats of east Texas.

 

I’ve recently returned from a trip where I was able to visit two national parks for the first time, one of which was Big Thicket National Preserve, located north and west of Beaumonth in east Texas.

Big Thicket is an unusual park – its actually fairly sizable, with more than 108,000 acres in its boundaries.   However, this park could easily have been designated as a national river, rather than a national preserve,  as the core of the park is the Neches River and its main tributaries of Village Creek and Little Pine Island Bayou.  Its a good 50 miles from the southern tip of this park, where the Neches River flows past the eastern edge of urban Beaumont all the way to the northern tip where Town Bluff Dam forms B.A. Steinhagen Lake.      Its also a similar distance from the eastern edge on the north-south flowing Neches River all the way east to where Menard Creek, which is part of the Preserve, flows into the Trinity River.

So this park simply isn’t a big square on the map into which you can wonder and go get lost.   Instead it is a long set of corridors around creeks, bayous, and Neches River – with the occasionally slightly larger patch of park here and there throughout.

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They don’t call this park Big Thicket for nothing…. best to stay on the established trails when visiting here.

 

Despite the large size, the park just has one Visitor Center, a relativey new-ish facility just outside the small town of Kountze, TX.  You can find the Park’s main Passport stamp there.   The rest of the Park though must be explored on your own.  I only had time for a short visit here, so I went with the popular Kirby Nature Trail, which is located just a minute or two by car from the Visitor Center.

The shortest hike on the Kirby Nature Trail is a 1.7 mile loop, but various extensions and side trails offer the opportunity to make your hike anywhere from a half-day to even much longer trips along the Turkey Creek Trail.     If you do have more time, a short 20 minute drive north of the visitor center will take you to the 1 mile Sundew Trail, which features carnivorous sundew and pitcher plants among other highlights.

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A vine-covered tree along the Kirby Nature Trail.

 

Given the size of this park, this obviously much more to see that these easy hikes in the immediate vicinity of the visitor center.  Nevertheless, when speaking with the Rangers here, I asked them “why is this park important?”  No question, there is no Half Dome here, nor a Mammoth Hot Springs.  The Ranger I spoke to said that this park was set aside because of the “variety of different ecosystems” found here.  Indeed, the park brochure highlights nine different ecosystems – although the subtle distinctions between longleaf pine uplands and slope forest habitats or between cypress slough and bottomland floodplain habitats are probably lost on most visitors.  Not surprisingly, with many different habitats, I was often reminded of other national parks that I had visited, with experiences here reminiscent of Congaree National Park in South Carolina or Big Cypress National Preserve in south Florida. 

Indeed, Big Cypress and Big Thicket were both established on the same day in 1974, both as the first two national preserves in the National Park System.  A national preserve seems to exist as kind of a middle ground in the system of Federal land protections, a place that doesn’t quite have the full-fledged visitor facilities of an out and out national park – but is nevertheless part of the U.S. National Park System (and not a National Wildlife Refuge, which is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.)   As an in-between of the two worlds, its perhaps not surprising that there are only ten stand-alone national preserves natural areas among the 401 places in the U.S. National Park System.

So what are you really getting when you make a visit to Big Thicket National Preserve?   When you visit Big Thicket, you are getting a taste of the habitat that once stretched across much of east Texas, and is now largely gone.   Is it one of the 400-or-so places that a well-traveled American should visit before they die?   That case can probably be made.   Overall, I do think the National Park System is strong with Big Thicket included in it, than without it.

If your interests tend more towards the historical than the natural, then a visit to Big Thicket can also be paired with travel along the El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historical Trail.    Although not one of th 401 national parks, this partnership of the National Park Service preserves the story of the Spanish “Royal Road to Texas” and old capital just outside of present-day Natchitoches, Louisiana.   While investigating the colonial history of the Spanish, French, and the Americans in this area along the trail, the Big Thicket National Preserve provides a taste of the natural environment these pioneers were encountering in their day.

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The habitat of the real Texas – also along the Kirby Nature Trail.

For a particularly humours story about exploring Big Thicket National Preserve, check out this story from Jim Burnett over at the National Parks Traveler blog.

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November Stamps: 1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi….

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Davis Bayou in Gulf Islands National Seashore is one of 19 new Passport locations in Mississippi this month.  Photo credit: NPS.gov.

 

Eastern National has released its list of new stamps for the month of November, and its a big month for the State of Mississippi.

For starters, the Gulf Islands National Seashore has two new stamps:

  • one for Opal Beach in Florida, and
  • one ofr Davis Bayou in Mississippi.

These two additions give the park a total of 10 stamps available to collect.

The Gulf Islands National Seashore is primarily known for pristine white sand beaches on coastal barrier islands in the Florida Panhandle and coastal Mississippi.  (Interestingly, the park does not include any lands in Alabama in between the two.)   Opal Beach is one of those gorgeouse stretches of white sand, on the eastern end of Santa Rosa Island, just outside of Pensacola, Florida.

In addition to the beaches, however, Gulf Islands National Seashore also preserves some of the natural coastal habitat on the mainland.   Davis Bayou is one of these areas, located just outside of the park’s secondary visitor center in Ocean Springs, Mississippi.

The State of Mississippi also gets a number of new additions as the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area has decided to add  18 new Passport cancellations.  These new cancellations will join the existing stamp for “The Mississippi Delta” available at the Heritage Area Headquarters at Delta State University in Cleveland, Mississippi.   The new stamps are as follows:

  • Bolivar County
  • Carroll County
  • Coahoma County
  • DeSoto County
  • Holmes County
  • Humphreys County
  • Issaquena County
  • Leflore County
  • Panola County
  • Quitman County
  • Sharkey County
  • Sunflower County
  • Tallahatchie County
  • Tate County
  • Tunica County
  • Warren County
  • Washington County
  • Yazoo County

Based on this list, it seems likely that each of these new stamps will be located at the local County Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center in each of the counties located within the Heritage Area, all in northwest Mississippi.  This is a not-uncommon arrangement for Heritage Areas participating in the Passport Program, as there is a natural desire to spread participation out over all areas included in the Heritage Area’s partnership program.   For what its worth, I’m not particularly a fan of that arrangement.   I would much rather have seen the Heritage Area pick out the dozen-or-so most-significant places in the Mississippi Delta, regardless of county, than distribute them evenly.  For example, a stamp at the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Mississippi would  be much more meaningful to met than simply making a stamp for Coahoma County at the Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center.   Still, these new 18 passport stamps will take passport stamp collectors throughout a part of the country that many of them would probably have been unlikely to visit otherwise – which has always been one of the main points of the program.

The Mississippi Delta NHA is one of three national heritage areas in the state of Mississippi.   The Mississippi Gulf Coast National Heritage Area has 20 stamps in the southern part of the stamp, and the Mississippi Hills National Heritage Area has just two stamps (so far) in the northeast part of the state.

Finally, there were two other new major stamps.   One was for the newly-dedicated American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial in Washington, DC, which is part of the catchall National Capital Parks unit of the U.S. National Park System.   The other is a new stamp for Great Smoky Mountains Naitonal Park and Bryson City, NC.   Bryson City is the gateway to the Deep Creek area in the northwest corner of the park.

With these new additions, that now takes us up to 1,939 activie Passport cancellations available.   Slowly closing in on 2,000!

 

 

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