All posts by Parkasaurus

Managing Manassas

The Stone House is the iconic structure of Manassas NBP, it was used as a hospital in both battles, and is one of three Passport locations for the park.
The Stone House is the iconic structure of Manassas NBP, it was a landmark in both battles fought here, and is one of three Passport locations for the park.

I recenty had occasion to make a return visit to Manassas National Battlefield Park.  Manassas can be a somewhat daunting park for visitors, as not one, but two major Civil War battles were fought here.  If you are the type of person who isn’t that in to military history, and who finds the descriptions of various troop movements  blending together – those feelings can be compounded when there are two battles fought a little more than one year apart being described in the same national park.

Fortunately, it can be possible to keep the historical events straight, and develop an appreciation for why the fields of Manassas are some of America’s most hallowed ground.

The main visitor center for the park is the Henry Hill Visitor Center, and has the main passport stamp for the park.  Henry Hill is located at the center of the First Battle of Manassas, fought in July 1861.  The First Battle of Manassas was the first major engagement of the Civil War, coming just three months after South Carolina had fired on Fort Sumter (now Fort Sumter National Monument.)

The key things to know about the First Battle of Manassas are that both sides went into it thinking this would be a quick and glorious war.  By the end of it, 900 young men were dead, the Union Army was beating a hasty retreat, and Confederate General Thomas Jackson had a new nickname: “Stonewall.”

Also worth noting about this battle is that you may also have heard it called the “First Battle of Bull Run.”  Interestingly, the Confederates tended to name battles after towns, such as Manassas Junction, whereas the Union troops tended to name battles after bodies of water, such as Bull Run.  The National Park Service’s convention is to use the name preferred by the side that prevailed in the battle itself.  Thus, the National Park Service refers to these battles as the 1st and 2nd Battles of Manassas – the name preferred the Confederate forces that won each battle.


This statue marks the spot where Confederate General Thomas Jackson rallied his troops by standing "like a stone wall."   The name stuck.  Photo taken in 2011.
This statue marks the spot where Confederate General Thomas Jackson rallied his troops by standing “like a stone wall.” The name stuck. Photo taken in 2011.


To get a good sense of the story of the 1st Battle of Manassas, from the Henry Hill Visitor Center you’ll want to take the one mile self-guided walking tour.   Be forewarned that much of this trail is out in the open, so if you are visiting during a hot summer day, you’ll want to wear a hat and bring plenty of water.   On a crisp fall-like day, like I had on my recent visit last month, however, the trail is absolutely delightful.   The handfull of wayside exhibits along the trail will give you a good overview of the one-day battle of 1st Manassas, and take you past some of the Park’s historic structures.


A view of the one-mile self-guided walking tour for the battle of 1st Manassas, looking back at the Henry Hill Visitor Center in the distance.
A view of the one-mile self-guided walking tour for the battle of 1st Manassas, looking back at the Henry Hill Visitor Center in the distance.

The 2nd Battle of Manassas was a much larger, and longer (lasting three days this time), engagement – leaving 3,300 dead.   In early 1862, Union General George McClellan boldly sailed his army down the Chesapeake Bay to Fort Monroe  (present-day Fort Monroe National Monument) to launch a direct assault on the Confederate Capital of Richmond.   The Union Army was defeated at the end of June in the Seven Days’ Battles (now part of present-day Richmond National Battlefield Park), and was withdrawn back to Washington, DC.   This would set the stage for a second engagement at Manassas Junction at the end of August.

The best way to get an overview of 2nd Manassas is to visit the Brawner Farm interpretive center on the western edge of this park, which is also the third Passport location for the park.   There is also a one-mile self-guided walking tour here.   If you have more time, you can actually easily spend a whole day continuing the walking trails throughout the whole park, including Stuart’s Hill to the south and all the way to Matthew’s Hill and the Stone Bridge in the east.   For shorter visits, however, the National Park Service has identied a 12-stop driving tour that hits some of the highlights of the 2nd Battle of Manassas.

The Brawner Farm Interpretive Center contains this model of the colorful uniforms worn by the 5th New York Regiment, known as the zouave's.
The Brawner Farm Interpretive Center contains this model of the colorful uniforms worn by the 5th New York Regiment, known as the zouave’s.

If you don’t have time for the whole driving tour, I definitely recommend making it out to stop #5, for Sudley United Methodist Church, at the north end of the park.    The tour stop is on the west side of Virginia-234, but follow the walking trail across the road to the east side where a wayside exhibit tells one of the more remarkable human-interest stories of the park.

Moreover, if you are the tip of person who prefers to learn about ecology and natural beauty in the national parks, rather than military history, then tour stop #12 for the iconic Stone Bridge on the east side of the park is well worth it.   This tour stops includes a 1.5 mile loop hiking trail with cell phone interpretation on the ecology of Manassas National Battlefield Park.   Each wayside on the loop contains two audio recordings (available by cell phone), one geared towards adults and one geared towards children.   The trail starts be heading across the iconic stone bridge, and then heading in a counter-clockwise direction around the loop.

Since this is the Parkasaurus blog, I definitely encourage you to head to the first cell phone stop past the stone bridge and to the right. The audio recording here explains the history of dinosaurs at Manassas National Battlefield Park.  True story!

One of the many surprises at Manassas National Battlefield Park is that you may learn about dinosaurs at this stop on the cell phone tour at the Stone Bridge.
One of the many surprises at Manassas National Battlefield Park is that you may learn about dinosaurs at this stop on the cell phone tour at the Stone Bridge.

Manassas National Battlefield Park has three Pasport cancellations to collect:

  • Manassas, VA – for the Henry Hil Visitory Center (the main VC for the park)
  • Brawner Farm – for the Brawner Farm Interpretive Center and the 2nd Battle of Manassas
  • Stone House – at the historic stone house, which was an icon in both battles.

Additionally, all three of these locations also have a second Passport cancellation for the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area.

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New Video on Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park

The Temple of the Patriarchs is one of the iconic landmarks of Zion National Park.
The Court of the Patriarchs is one of the iconic landmarks of Zion National Park.


Thanks to the Undiscovered America Podcast, I recently discovered the Unboring Exploring YouTube video series – which are a set of videos designed to encourage people to explore the outdoors.   The latest episode of Unboring Exploring is on the Angel’s Landing hike in Zion National Park, and its a real gem.

Angel’s Landing has a reputation as being one of the most-spectacular and also one of the scariest trails in the national park system.   People can and do fall from this trail – but that is surprisingly also true for a great many other trails that are not as famously-vertigo-inducing.

Anyhow, if you are unable to make the trip out to Zion, or if like me, you decide that your natural fear of heights recommends taking some of the other amazing trails in the park, then Unboring Exploring’s video is a great way to experience some of what you miss on the Angel’s Landing trail:

As I mentioned, on my own trip to Zion National Park in 2006, I opted for a hike with a slightly wider trail to it than Angel’s Landing.   If you do choose to pass up the crowds on the Angel’s Landing Trail, then the Echo Canyon Trail is a great choice.   The walk up Echo Canyon provides some nice respite from the heat, and the views of Zion Valley at the top are also spectacular.   Here’s my picture from the top, you can see Angel’s Landing in the center of the valley directly behind and to the right of my left elbow.  You can also get a good view of the narrow path up to the “top” (the trail continues past this point as the East Rim Trail, but many day-hikers turn back from this point, as I did.)

The view from the overlook at the top of the Echo Canyon trail gives you a chance to gaze back on Angel's Landing

The view from the overlook at the top of the Echo Canyon trail gives you a chance to gaze back on Angel’s Landing.


As you can see from the video and these pictures, the scenery in Zion National Park will never fail to impress.

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Vote for Parkasaurus, Win a Free Trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton!

The Parkasaurus Blog is honored to be a finalist in the National Park Foundation’s Summer Scrapbook contest in the Learning & Discovery category with the following photograph:

Vote for this picture and you could win!
Vote for this picture and you could win!

This picture dates from my epic 2004 trip following the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail.   You can read more about it on the National Park Foundation’s contest page.

The way the contest works is that there are 10 finalists in each of 8 categories.  Definitely take the time to read through some of the entries (especially in the other categories, of course!), as there are some great stories in there.   You can vote for one finalist in each category each day – and voting lasts through September 29th.  Each time you vote, you will be entered into a drawing for a trip to Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park.

So please, vote early and vote often!

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A Star-Spangled 200th Anniversary at Ft. McHenry National Monument

Photo Credit:
Photo Credit:

This weekend  (September 13-14, 2014) will be a big one at Ft. McHenry National Monument & Historic Shrine, as they celebrate the 200th anniversary of the bombing of Ft. McHenry by British troops during the War of 1812.   This is the event, of course, that inspired Francis Scott Key to write his epic poem, The Defense of Ft. McHenry.   This poem was later set to a drinking song, To Anacreaon in Heaven, and was renamed The Star-Spangled Banner.

The festivities are off to a great start, however, with this fantastic aerial photo of a “living” Star-Spangled Banner on the grounds of the national park:

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Carter Woodson Home Set to Finally Open in August 2015


One of the newest national parks is the Carter G. Woodson Home National Historic Site, located in Washington, DC’s historically African-American Shaw Neighborhood.   Carter Woodson is the founder of Negro History Week, which today we celebrate as African-American History Month.

Of course, it is one thing to establish a national park, it is another thing to make it open to the public.   The house was in pretty bad shape when the National Park Service acquired it and saved it from the wrecking ball.   This close up shot of the front door is illustrative of the general condition of things:


Thus, even though  Carter G. Woodson Home NHS became the 390th Unit of the National Park System back in February 2006*, it has pretty much been closed to visitation ever since.  That has made the claim of “visiting” this national park something of a philosophical question ever since then.  For many, the most that could be reasonably expected for a visit has been simply standing on the front stoop, and checking out the small exhibit on Carter Woodson at the nearby Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site.   Beyond that, another option is that with a little planning ahead, the National Park Service has begun offering some very interesting walking tours of the neighborhood.

I was actually lucky enough, however, to get a relatively rare “sneak peak” inside the home before the National Park Service had had any opportunity to do any restoration work.   Suffice to say, it wasn’t much to look at:



…and then there is this look down the main hallway – where the ceiling was literally falling in!



Anyhow, the good news to come out this past week is that Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who is the District of Columbia’s non-voting representative in Congress, and who led the charge for establishing this national park, has announced that the park will be ready to open in August 2015.   The opening of the park will include the house itself, as well as the two homes immediately adjacent to the historic home, which are being converted by the National Park Service into a full-fledged visitor center for the park.    The opening will also be a fitting way to mark the centennial of Dr. Woodson founding the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915.

Although I’m not actually aware of any plans in this regard, that may actually open an opportunity for this site to also serve as the visitor center for the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House NHS, which is only a few blocks away.  Right now, visitor services for that site are crammed into a downstairs room within the house itself.   Indeed, given that Carter Woodson and Mary McLeod Bethune were contemporaries of each other in the greater Logan Circle neighborhood of Washington, DC, it might be intriguing for Congress to consider down the road merging the two national park sites into a single “Washington African-American Heritage National Historical Park” that would tell the broader story of the path to civil rights for African-Americans living in the nation’s capitol in the earlier 20th Century.

At any rate, this is certainly good news for anyone trying to offficially visit all of the national parks.   I’ll have to consider writing a future post on national parks that are closed to the public.   In the meantime, hopefully this announcement means that signs like this will be soon be a thing of the past:



* – As an interesting historical footnote, the very day that the NPS acquired the Carter Woodson Home, thus making it an “official” national park (albeit not open to the public), President George W. Bush used the Antiquities Act to establish the African Burial Ground National Monument in New York City as the 391st national park on the same day.  The significance of the “lost history” of the African Burial Ground in colonial New York City becoming a national park on the same day as a national park dedicated to the founder of African-American History Month was established was certainly in the front of everyone’s minds who were involved in that designation.

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New Passport Stamps for September 2014

In addition to trying to visit all the U.S. National Parks, I’m also a big fan of the Passport to Your National Parks program.   In fact, I am not entirely sure which idea came to my first – trying to visit all the U.S. National Parks or trying to collect all the cancellations in the Passport Program.  The two goals, at least back when I started, really seemed to go hand-in-hand… by trying to collect all the passport cancellations, I would naturally visit all the national parks in the process, and vice-versa.

The Passport Program is sponsored by Eastern National, Inc. – which is the non-profit cooperating association that operates the bookstores for many of the national park sites in the eastern United States.   Since many of the national parks in the eastern U.S. lack the publicity of a Yellowstone or a Grand Canyon, the passport program was initially conceived as a way to promote visitation to all of the national parks, both large and small, both famous and off-the-beaten-path.

Each month, Eastern National releases the list of new Passport Cancellations.   This month there are four of them:

    • Cape Lookout National Seashore | Beaufort, NC
    • Independence NHP | Franklin Court Printing Office
    • Erie Canalway National Heritage Area | H.  Lee White Marine Museum
    • Underground Railroad: Network to Freedom | New Castle Court House Museum

By my count that brings the total number of passport cancellations in the program to approximately 1,929 active major cancellations.   Obviously, with only 401 national parks, that works out to many more than one cancellation per national park!   That’s in part because larger parks may have multiple cancellations for different locations throughout the park, and other parks may have special cancellations available for a specific anniversary celebration, such as the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War.

For example, this new cancellation brings Independence National Historical Park up to 8 available active cancellations.  7 of them are in downtown Philadelphia:

    • Philadelphia, PA (at the main visitor center)
    • Liberty Bell
    • Franklin Court (where a museum stands on the location of Ben Franklin’s former house)
    • Benjamin Franklin Museum
    • Franklin Court Printing Office (where the National Park Service has restored Ben Franklin’s print shop for working demonstrations)
    • Declaration House (where Thomas Jefferson did most of the writing for the Declaration of Independence)
    • Old City Hall (which was used by the U.S. Supreme Court from 1791-1800 while the U.S. Capitol was in Philadelphia

The eighth is for the Germantown White House, which is a house in what was in the 18th century then-suburban Germantown.  President Washington stayed there to escape a yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia during Philadelphia’s time is the national capital.

While Independence National Historical Park includes dozens of other buildings in downtown Philadelphia, perhaps the most-notable thing about this list of passport cancellations is that there are now three stamps for Benjamin Franklin, as well as a stamp for the Liberty Bell, but no specific stamp for visiting Independence Hall – the iconic centerpiece of the park itself.   Go figure!

The new stamp for Cape Lookout National Seashore is not surprising as they just opened a new visitor information center in the Beaufort, NC Town Hall, which was the former site of the post office there. This cancellation gives Cape Lookout four active cancellations:

    • Beaufort, NC – as mentioned above
    • Harker’s Island, NC – the park headquarters, main visitor center, and primary ferry departure point to Cape Lookout itself are all here
    • Light Station Visitor Center – this is the main visitor center on Cape Lookout itself, it is only accessible by ferry
    • Portsmouth Village – it actually takes two ferries to reach this remote location, a place that is legendary for the epic number of mosquitoes on the island!

The other thing which boosts the total number of cancellations is that the National Park Service does much more than simply manage the U.S. National Park System.   In particular, it operates a number of partnership programs, including National Heritage Areas, which opens the Passport Program to other sites that aren’t themselves national parks..

The new location for the Erie Canalway National Heritage Area gives that program 27 total cancellations.   Of those, four are located at national parks located within the Erie Canalway National Heritage Area.  The other 23, like the H. Lee White Marine Museum, in Oswego, NY are other historic sites that are not Federally-run, but participate in the Passport Program through the National Heritage Area partnership program with the National Park Service.

Finally, the Underground Railroad: Network to Freedom is yet another partnership program.  In this case, special Underground Railroad: Network to Freedom passport stamps are given to any of the 401 national park sites that tells the story of slavery or emancipation in some way, shape, or form.  This site is going to the New Castle, Delaware Old Court House Museum, which is part of First State National Monument.  The Old Court House was the site of a famous trial of Thomas Garrett and John Hunn, who were convicted of working as stationmasters on the Underground Railroad in violation of the Fugitive Slave Act.    This cancellation brings the number of active and available Underground Railroad: Network to Freedom cancellations to 26.

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Riding the Rails at Steamtown National Historic Site

Steamtown NHS

I recently had the occasion to make a return visit to Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton, Pennsylvania.   It wasn’t a tough choice to add Steamtown as a side-trip on a recent family road-trip – as the proud parent of a three-year-old boy who absolutely loves trains (and an almost-one-year-old girl as well); Steamtown NHS was sure to be a hit.

There is a little irony to that, of course, as Steamtown NHS isn’t always looked upon fondly by fans of the U.S. National Parks.   In my recent post on the Pullman District, I alluded to the fact that sometimes the normal study process for a new national park is cut short in the rush to create a designation.  Steamtown NHS is a particular case where that process was almost completely side-stepped.  In the mid-1980’s, with the Steamtown tourist attraction in Scranton suffering from financial trouble, the local Congressional delegation pushed through a national park designation for the site to have the National Park Service take over the site and hopefully raise it to prominence.

On the other hand, it strikes me that there is no question that the story of steam railroading in the United States is a story that is well worth telling as part of the National Park System.  After all, there are at least a half-dozen national park sites devoted to telling the story of coastal fortifications and defenses in the U.S. (that’s a story for a future blog post) – so surely one would imagine that the economic engine of steam railroading would be a worthwhile story for inclusion in the National Park System.  The flip side to that, of course, is whether there is any one place that is more suitable for telling that story than any other – and in particular, whether Steamtown, in Scranton, is that place.

The primary claim to fame of Steamtown NHS is that it has preserved an old-fashioned railroad roundhouse, including the railroad turntable in the center.  According to Wikipedia, there are approximately 30 roundhouses left in the United States – which makes the turntable and roundhouse at Steamtown rare enough, if not exactly unique.  It possible that the ones here at Steamtown are in better condition than the others, or are otherwise somehow more significant than the others – but if so, that isn’t yet clear to me.

During the age of steam railroading, roundhouses were exactly as the name implies – round.   The buildings would almost completely surround the central turntable, and the turntable would allow the rail cars to be distributed into any of the bays in the roundhouse.    Today, Steamtown NHS preserves only a small portion of the original full-circle roundhouse, along with a slight larger section of the roundhouse, which has been rebuilt.  Together, the original and reconstructed roundhouses now contain the Park’s collection of historic locomotives.   This collection was largely inherited from the original owners, although the National Park Service has made various trades, sales, and purchases over the years to increase the historical quality of the collection.

This photo from 2006 shows the turntable and the historic section of the roundhouse at Steamtown NHS.   During the author's visit in 2014, the turntable was under repairs.
This photo from 2006 shows the turntable and the roundhouse at Steamtown NHS. During the author’s visit in 2014, the turntable was under repairs.

As steam locomotives were replaced by diesel locomotives in the 20th Century, roundhouses were eventually rendered obsolete.    This was due to the fact that diesel locomotives had much different maintenance requirements than their steam locomotive predecessors.   Intuitively, this makes sense, as a steam locomotive required maintaining a fire within it – and that surely imposed a lot of wear and tear on the equipment in a way in which a modern diesel engine did not.   Thus, as diesel replaced steam, roundhouses were generally replaced with more modern maintenance facilities.

At Steamtown NHS, the turntable is once-again surrounded by a full circle of buildings, as the National Park Service has constructed museum buildings where the rest of the roundhouse once would have stood.   When standing in the area of the central turntable, this at least gives some of the historical feel of what standing inside the original full circle roundhouse might have felt like.

When visiting Steamtown NHS, there is a ticket booth directly between the parking lot and the roundhouse/turntable where you pay your admission.   Head into the visitor center on the left for orientation exhibits on the park.  Heading in a clockwise direction through the complex will take you first to the Technology Museum, which provides a great overview of the evolution of railroad technology over the years.

Continuing in a clockwise direction will take you through both the restored and historic roundhouses, and the park’s collection of historic locomotives.   On our visit, we found this to be the quickest part of the park to go through.   The historic locomotives were nice and all – but, if you aren’t really in to the ins-and-outs of historic trains, we found these exhibits overall less meaningfull than the others in the park.

At the end of the locomotive exhibit you reach the History Museum.  The history here is largely told through the lens of the Delaware, Lackawanna, & Western Railroad, which originally constructed and operated the roundhouse where this national park now sits.   It doesn’t appear that the D, L, & W was a railroad that was necessarily particularly more notable than several others that operated in this area – but it does appear to at least be representative.    The History Museum tells the story of turn-of-century railroading through the people who would have used and worked on the railroad, and is an easy set of exhibits to get “lost in” if you enjoy that sort of thing.

The last part of the roundhouse is the theatre – however, since we were making this visit with young children, we ultimately decided to skip the movie.

A view out the window on the train excursion tour.
A view out the window on the Scranton Limited train excursion tour.


A trip to a place like Steamtown NHS, of course, would not be complete without a train ride.   The Scranton Limited is the most-frequently-offered excursion, and provides a short 30-minute round-trip through the rail yards, past some of the historic buildings in downtown Scranton, and back.  Despite the name of the park, the Scranton Limited tour is conducted using a historic diesel locomotive.    Still, if you are travelling with little ones, the trip is sure to meet with approval.

A satisfied customer dreaming of a train ride!
A satisfied customer dreaming of a train ride!


Throughout the year, other train excursions are offerred, such as to regional festivals, or to the nearby town of Moscow, PA.   Also offered with some regularity is a program offering a chance to operate a railroad hand-cart – which definitely seems like it would be a fun option for a return visit when our kids are older.

For fans of the Passport to Your National Parks program, this national park has a single major cancellation to collect:

    • Scranton, PA

The cancellation is available in three locations in the park, at the ticket booth by the entrance, and the Ranger desk in the visitor center, and at the sales counter in the Park Bookstore.

Overall, the turntable, roundhouse, historic locomotives, and train excursion tours of Steamtown NHS may not quite rise to the level of being “one of the 400 most-important places in the United States.”   On the other hand, you couldn’t tell the story of the United States without including the rise of railroading technology; so it seems to me that if there wasn’t a Steamtown National Historic Site already as a national park, then we would there to be some national park like it.   And of course, if you happen to love trains, or have little ones who love trains, then Steamtown NHS is a can’t miss destination.

I captured the reflection of my three-year-old Jr. Parkasaurus in the window gazing out on one one of the park's historic locomotives.
I captured the reflection of my three-year-old Jr. Parkasaurus in the window gazing out on one one of the park’s historic locomotives.
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Two Great National Park Pictures

I’ve recently come across two absolutely amazing pictures from national parks, and both are very well worth checking out:

1) NASA’s long-running Astronomy Picture of the Day blog featured a new picture from Yellowstone National Park on August 27th.  This amazing shot, taken within the last month by professional photographer Dave Lane is a stunning composition of the Milky Way arching over multi-colored thermal hot springs.   Be sure to check it out!

2) The second is a stunning photo from Dan Robinson’s Storm Highway blog of lightning striking the Gateway Arch in St. Louis – which is part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.    It turns out that lightning doesn’t strike the Gateway Arch quite as often as you might think.    You can check out his stunning photograph here, or watch the video here.

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A Pullman National Historical Park in Chicago?

One of my favorite topics is following possible new additions to the U.S. National Park System.

This week there has been quite a bit of news surrounding the possibility of a Pullman National Historical Park due to a visit by National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis to a town hall meeting in Chicago on the topic.

The U.S. National Park System includes many historic places, but we don’t often think of our industrial heritage as being among those places.  The Pullman District of Chicago was a company town – founded by George Pullman’s Pullman Palace Car Company.  Pullman Cars are, of course, nearly synonomous with “railroad sleeping cars,” in the way that a hundred years later “Xerox” would become nearly synonomus with “photocopu.”  The town of Pullman was also apparently the first industrial company town – which as near as I can tell is a distinction that excludes coal mining company towns, like Blue Heron in the Big South Fork NRRA.

The Pullman Palace Car Company was founded by George Pullman in 1867, shortly after the end of the civil war.  The business model of the company was to lease its rail cars to the railroads, and to provide the staffing for those cars at the same time – with many of those employees being recently-freed former slaves.   The town of Pullman, which was then separate from Chicago, was founded in 1880 out of a combination of the Pullman Palace Car Company’s need for a new factory, and George Pullman’s belief that the industrialists of the day should use their wealth for the betterment of their workers.

Nowadays, the idea of a “company town” seems like an almost completely foreign concept – well at odds with our modern conception of freedom.   In many ways, Pullman was a remarkable feat of central planning – with the size of your house determined by your rank within the company, and a prohibition on saloons within the town.

Now, industrial heritage isn’t always the first thing that we think of when we think of national parks – but there are a few examples.   Lowell National Historical Park is generally the prototypical example, where the old cotton mills are now a successful national park and tourist destination in Lowell, Massachusetts.  Other examples of industrial heritage-themed national parks include Thomas Edison’s laboratories at Edison National Historical Park in New Jersey, and the Rosie the Riveter / World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California.

Along those lines,  its interesting to note that even Jon Jarvis brings up the fact that adding the Pullman site to the Passport to Your National Parks Program as one of the attractions for designating it as a national park.   There’s no question that designation as a national park immediately adds a site to an awful lot of peoples’ bucket lists.

With that being said, the national significance of the Pullman District seems difficult to question.   The area was the site of a major strike, and so was instrumental in the development of labor unions in this country.  Moreover, the Pullman Company was also the first company to develop a predominantly African-American labor union.  With 90% of the historic buildings still in tact, there seems to be a strong case that the Pullman District would be an ideal place to tell the story of how the Industrial Revolution in this country transitioned into the pre-Great War Gilded Age.

If you want the full details, you can read more about the National Park Service’s initial assessment of the Pullman District as a candidate national park by checking out their Reconnaisance Survey.  As the survey makes clear, however, ideally the Reconnaisance Survey would just be a first step on the way to a complete Special Resource Study of the Pullman District that would fully evaluate the area against the four established criteria for establishing a new national park.   Although several recent national parks have been designated by the President under the Antiquities Act without waiting for the Special Resource Study to be completed (let alone waiting for Congress to take action by designating the park and also establishing a budget for the new park), I generally lean towards wanting to let the established process play out and letting the career professionals in the National Park Service do their job.   By all accounts, the Pullman District isn’t in immediate danger of decay or development, so it seems that there is plenty of time to allow that to happen.

On the other hand, the initial assessment seems to be pretty clearly pointing towards the Pullman District being a worthy addition to the U.S. National Park System.  Indeed, it seems kind of amazing that a storied city like Chicago does not yet have a single national park site of any kind within its boundaries.   Given those considerations, and reading between the lines of Director Jon Jarvis’ comments, it seems that the Pullman District will be taking its place in the U.S. National Park System sooner rather than later – my guess would be almost certainly before another famous Chicagoan moves on to other things in 2017.

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When Is a National Scenic Trail a National Park?

The author on the Appalachian NST near Boiling Springs, PA. The Appalachian NST is one of three trails that are also counted as a national park as well.

One of the tricky aspects about visiting all of the U.S. National Parks is just identifying the list of what are the national parks in the first place.  In my first post, I mentioned that there are three National Scenic Trails in the U.S. National Park System, and I thought that I would write a little bit more about them. The list of U.S. National Parks includes three national scenic trails;

And yet, there are a total eleven national scenic trails in the United States.  So why does these three “count,” but not the other eight?   What makes these three so special?

Officially, the designation of a long-distance hiking route as a national scenic trail was established by the National Trails System Act of 1968.  Of course, the grand-daddy of them all, the Appalachian Trail was first conceived all the way back in the early 1920’s.   Not too long after that, the parallel concept of of a Pacific Crest Trail was proposed in the 1930’s, running along the Sierra Nevadas. Both the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail were designated the first two national scenic trails in 1968.  Confusingly, however, the Appalachian NST became a national park site, but the Pacific Crest NST did not.   In particularly, the National Park Service was authorized to purchase most of the right-of-way for the Appalachian Trail – in that respect, at least, making it a true national park.  The Pacific Crest NST, on the other hand, largely runs through existing national parks, national forests, Bureau of Land Management land, and existing state parks.

By 1980, three other national scenic trails were designated.  The Continental Divide NST would parallel the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails by running down the spine of the Rocky Mountains.   The North Country NST, on the other hand, would turn long-distance trails on their head by running mostly east-west from Lake Champlain in upstate New York to Lake Sakakawea in central North Dakota.    Finally, the Ice Age NST would become the first single-state national scenic trail, making a long loop connecting sites throughout the state of Wisconsin. None of trails, however, authorized the acquisition of land by the National Park Service, and so none of these three trails are officially listed as national parks -even though the National Park Service is the lead Federal liaison for both the North Country and Ice Age Trails.  (The US Forest Service, in the Department of Agriculture, is the lead Federal agency for the Continental Divide Trail.)

In 1983, however, three more national scenic trails would be designated.   The Florida NST runs from the end of the Florida Panhandle all the way down to Big Cypress National Preserve, just north of Everglades National Park, and is not counted as a national park.  On the other hand, the Natchez Trace NST and the Potomac Heritage NST would both receive this distinction.  The Natchez Trace NST was designed to run alongside the Natchez Trace Parkway through Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee.  The Potomac Heritage NST was designated to run along the tow-path of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park in Maryland and Washington, DC, with extensions eastward through Maryland and Virginia to the Chesapeake Bay, and an extension westwards to Pittsburgh.  In this respect, both the Natchez Trace NST and Potomac Heritage NST were unique in that although the National Park Service would not be acquiring additional Federal land for these trails (as was done for the Appalachian NST), these two new trails would be running in large part through existing Federal land – indeed through existing National Park Service land.

I actually had occasion to contact the National Park Service about this issue, and they indicated to me that shortly after these new trails were designated in the 1983, the legal department at the National Park Service Headquarters made the determination that these two new trails should be counted as national parks.   Although they did not cite the specific legal rationale that was made all those years ago, I almost have to believe that the fact that these trails were largely designated on National Park Service land must have played a role in the determination.   The irony, of course, is that since the Natchez Trace Parkway and C&O Canal NHP are both already national parks, in many cases these trails become places where you can “visit two parks at once!”   Go figure!

Anyhow, its worth noting that it would be 26 years before another national scenic trail would be designated.  In 2009, three new national scenic trails were created: the Arizona NST runs north-south through the State of Arizona, the New England NST runs from Long Island Sound in Connecticut to the Massachusetts-New Hampshire border, and the Pacific Northwest NST runs from the Continental Divide NST in Montana to Olympic National Park in Washington State.  None of these three, however, are counted as national parks.

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