Tag Archives: Death Valley

The New National Park No One Is Talking About & More!

 

There are lots more other changes to the National Park System included in the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act, which has now been officially signed into law.

Among the many remaining changes that jump out to me is that Death Valley National Park is expanded by 35,292 acres, further expanding the largest national park in the contiguous 48 states.  Although this is a small addition to Death Valley’s existing 3.4 million acres, the expansion is larger than seven other national parks.  If this were a stand-alone addition to the National Park System, we might well be celebrating the addition of a 62nd national park.  In fact,  the additional lands are about the size of Bryce Canyon National Park’s 35, 835 acres.  So in some ways, this addition to Death Valley National Park is the new national park that no one is talking about.  If land of this size had been set aside as a new national park with a new name, it would certainly be headline news.  As it is, its a bit of a footnote, but is still worth celebrating.

A bit over 6,000 acres of this addition come from adding an area known as “the Crater” to the Park.  If you look closely at a map of Death Valley National Park, The Crater appears as a “doughnut hole” of Bureau of Land Management Land in the northeast corner of the Park.  That hole will now be filled in. The remaining 29,000 acres come from expanding the Park southwards to include the land between the current boundaries and the Fort Irwin National Training Center operated by the U.S. military.

Fort Moultrie, outside of Charleston South Carolina, tells a nearly complete history of US harbor defenses, and is now formally included in the newly-renamed Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Historical Park. Photo from 2011.

Although the expansion of Death Valley is far and away the largest expansion of the National Park System under the Dingell Act, there are a number of other changes to existing units that should not be overlooked:

  • Acadia National Park benefits by Congress confirming the 2015 addition of land on the Schoodic Peninsula to the Park;
  • Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument in Colorado, which preserves absolutely spectacular 35 million year old fossils, gets a small expansion from 6,000 acres to 6,300 acres
  • Fort Frederica National Monument in Georgia, where the British solidified their hold on their southern colonies, is expanded by 22%, with the addition of 55 additional acres;
  • Fort Scott National Historic Site in Kansas, which preserves a Fort that played an important role in the “Bleeding Kansas” conflicts of the antebellum years before the Civil War gets a small boundary expansion;
  • Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Historical Park not only gets a new name, but gets formal recognition of the inclusion of Fort Moultrie and the Charleston Lifesaving Station within the boundaries of the park after 60 years of being unofficially included in the park;
  • Harry S Truman National Historic Site in Independence, Missouri gets authorized to acquire additional land in Independence for a new or expanded visitor center;
  • Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site in Hyde Park, New York gets expanded by approximately 10% as 89 additional acres are added along the scenic Hudson River;
  • Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park in Georgia, the site of an important battle on General Sherman’s “March to the Sea” during the Civil War, gets a small addition of 8 acres around the  Wallis House and Hairston Hill;
  • Joshua Tree National Park  gets a modest expansion of 4,518 acres, plus the authority to establish a new visitor center in the unincorporated town of Joshua Tree, California;
  • Mojave National Preserve in California gets a small expansion of 25 additional acres;
  • A small sub-unit of National Capital Parks in Washington, DC containing a statue of Irish independence hero Robert Emmert gets redesignated as Robert Emmert Park;
  • Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park in Georgia, in addition to getting a new name, is tripled in size from its present 702 acres to some 2,100 acres;
  • Reconstruction Era National Historical Park gets a new name, and also the authority to acquire additional properties beyond the original monument designation;
  • Shiloh National Military Park, site of the overall bloodiest battle in the Civil War, is expanded by adding three new areas:
    • the Davis Bridge Battlefield in Tennessee, which is currently already a Parks Passport cancellation location by virtue of being part of a shared National Historic Landmark designation with the national military park itself,
    • additional acres around the Fallen Timbers Battlefield site in Tennessee, and
    • the Russel House Battlefield site on the Tennessee-Mississippi border;
  • Voyageurs National Park in northern Minnesota benefits by allowing the Department of the Interior to transfer 49 acres within the current Park boundaries that are currently managed by the Bureau of Land Management to National Park Service management, and also authorizes the possibility of up to several dozen additional acres to be donated to the National Park Service by the State of Minnesota;
Fort Kaskaskia State Historic Site in Illinois, where Meriwether Lewis and William Clark sought recruits for the Corps of Discovery in November 1803 will now benefit from the recognition of the eastward extension of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail. Photo from 2009.

Beyond the additions to the National Park System, the Dingell Act will also make a major change to the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, extending it from its current starting point near St. Louis, Missouri eastward to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  In 2004, during the Lewis & Clark Bicentennial, Congress directed the National Park Service to conduct a “Special Resource Study” on extending the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail eastward to include routes related to activities occurring both before and after the main 1804-1806 expedition already commemorated by the existing Trail.  The National Park Service looked at some 25 different route segments as part of its study, eventually determining that only the routes from Pittsburgh to St. Louis along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers met the criteria for historical significance to be added to the National Historic Trails System.

Interestingly, in researching this post, I discovered that the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail had already certified 12 of these “Eastern Legacy” sites as Trail locations, despite not being located along the then-authorized trail route.  The extension of the Lewis & Clark Trail to Pittsburgh will incorporate about half of these sites, but five certified sites will remain outside of the new, extended National Historic Trail:

  • Thomas Jefferson’s plantation, Monticello, in Virginia (currently a Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area cancellation location) where Meriwether Lewis met with Thomas Jefferson to plan the Corps of Discovery expedition;
  • Harpers Ferry National Historical Park in West Virginia, Maryland, and Virginia where Lewis procured armaments for the expedition and tested plans for a collapsable boat (which ultimately failed);
  • the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where Lewis received training in the natural sciences from Benjamin Rush, and other Society Members, in preparation for the expedition;
  • the College of Physicians in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where Meriwether Lewis received Medical Training from Benjamin Rush and others; and finally,
  • the Lewis and Clark Herbarium at the Academy of Natural Resources where most of the plant specimens collected by the Corps of Discovery continue to be housed today.
Parker’s Crossroads Battlefield in Tennessee Is the Newest Affiliated Area of the National Park System. Photo from 2018, courtesy Brian Bailey.

The Dingell Act will also be adding one new Affiliated Area to the National Park System.  The Parker’s Crossroads Battlefield in Tennessee, which already has a passport cancellation and an Eastern National-operated bookstore gets elevated to recognition as an Affiliated Area of the National Park System.  The 368 acre battlefield is managed by the non-profit American Battlefield Trust, and preserves the site of a Civil War engagement that took place on New Year’s Eve, approximately three and a half months prior to the Battle of Shiloh.

The President James K. Polk Home in Columbia, Tennessee is one of several areas that will now be studied for potential inclusion in the National Park System. Photo from 2010 by Polk Association Photographer. [CC BY 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)]
Finally, the Dingell Act authorizes a number of special resource studies for future additions to the National Park System.  A special resource study is where the National Park Service formally studies and gathers public input on the national significance, suitability, and feasibility of a proposed addition to the National Park System.  As mentioned earlier, it can be a long time between the authorization of a special resource study and a change to the National Park System – 15 years in the case of the eastward extension of the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail.  Here are the studies authorized by the Dingell Act:

  • the President James K. Polk Home in Columbia, Tennessee, which would be the first National Park System Unit other than Gateway Arch National Park interpreting the Presidency of James K. Polk;
  • the Thurgood Marshall School in Baltimore, Maryland, better-known as Public School 103, which the first African-American Supreme Court Justice attended as a youth;
  • President Street Station, which played a role in the Underground railroad,  Baltimore’s Civil War riots, the growth of the railroad industry, and early 20th century immigration (and which also currently has an Eastern National Bookstore and its own Parks Passport cancellation already);
  • Camp Amache Internment Camp in Granada, Colorado, which would be the fourth Japanese internment camp added to the National Park System;
  • the  George W. Bush childhood home in Midland Texas;
  • the Ocmulgee River Corridor in Macon, Georgia; and
  • the route of the explorer Zebulon Montgomery Pike (of Pike’s Peak fame) for consideration as a national historic trail.

These special resource studies will join a slew of studies already underway by the National Park Service, including a study of Fort Ontario in Oswego, New York that was authorized by a piece of stand-alone legislation in October 2018.

The authorizations of  special resource studies for the President Street Station and for Thurgood Marshall’s Elementary School in Baltimore, Maryland are particularly notable because Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland first introduced legislation requesting this study in October of 2011.  It took more than 7 years to get the legislation enacted, just for a study!   The proposal for the study of a Pike National Historic Trail goes all the way back to 2010!  That really illustrates how much effort goes into establishing just one new unit of the National Park System – even a small one!  Moreover, many of these special resource studies will of course conclude that the proposed addition is either not suitable, not feasible, or even not nationally significant and recommend against inclusion in the National Park System.  Although Congress can always make its own decision, an unfavorable recommendation in the special resource study often effectively ends efforts to designate a particular area a national park.

This article is Part III of a three-part series on changes to the National Park System in early 2019.  Check out Part I and Part II.

Update: This post was updated after publication to make it clearer that the “new” national park will still be known as Death Valley National Park. 

Final Shot: A new dawn rising on Death Valley National Park. Photo from 2009.

 

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30 for 300 – Part II

In continuing celebration of having reached my milestone 300th U.S. National Park visited, I’m posting about 30 of my favorite memories from my national park visits thus far.

Click here for Part I – #21-#30.

#20) Hiking to Mt. Olympus Viewpoint at Olympic National Park – August 2003
National parks are often places for testing our limits.  On a visit to the vast Olympic National Park in Washington, my friend and I naturally hoped to catch a glimpse of Mount Olympus.  The only problem was that reaching any of the viewpoints for Mount Olympus required an extensive hike in to the interior of the Park.  My friend and I compounded the problem by insisting upon going for a loop trail – in this case, one that was a whopping 20 miles.  Suffice to say, we were neither suffiicently prepared nor properly conditioned for a hike of that length.  By the time we dragged ourselves back to the car, a couple hours after sunset, we were both completely and utterly exhausted.  Still, we did catch that glimpse of Mount Olympus!  Well, just barely, as we had to look for it between breaks in the clouds.

The author, catching a fleeting glimpse of the glaciers on Mount Olympus, midway through a massive 20-mile hike.
The author, catching a fleeting glimpse of the glaciers on Mount Olympus, midway through a massive 20-mile hike.

 

#19) Landing at Portsmouth Village on Cape Lookout National Seashore – July 2002
By coincidence, I have two hikes in a row that were both a little more than I had bargained for.  As mentioned in this Parkasaurus post,  Portsmouth Village is one of the best-preserved ghost towns and one of the most-difficult to reach Passport cancellations on the East Coast.  Just to get to the site, you need to take a ferry from the mainland to Ocracoke Island in Cape Hatteras National Seashore,  and then from there hire another boat to take you over to Portsmouth Island.   The ghost town of Portsmouth Village was interesting enough, but what my friend and I were completely unprepared for were the absolute clouds of mosquitoes!   I remember applying multiple layers of high-strength Deet, and still seeing the mosquitoes line up on my blue jeans trying to find a way in!   Fortunately, the kind Park Rangers on the island took mercy on my friend and I gave us a ride on their Gator to help speed along our visit!  No, they didn’t actually let us drive it – but they did let us pose for this photograph!

The author and his friend, escaping the mosquitoes any way they can – with the help of some kind Park Rangers.

 

#18) Hiking the Savage River Trail in Denali National Park & Preserve – September 2008
By contrast, I have nothing but fond memories of this hike in Alaska’s Denali National Park & Preserve.  Our first day in Denali, my wife and I took an all-day bus tour out to Wonder Lake, which of course has been made famous by the photography of Ansel Adams.  Although we weren’t lucky enough to catch a glimpse of Mount McKinley on that day, we had enough exciting encounters with Alaskan wildlife to fill a scrapbook full of memories.  For our second day, we decided to head out on our own to enjoy some of the Alaskan solitude.  The Savage River Trailhead is the furthest point into the Park that you can drive your own vehicle without a special permit, and this late in the season, we seemingly had this part of the park all to ourselves.   Even though it was only Labor Day weekend, this was already pretty late in the visitaiton season for Denali – indeed, the plants on the tundra were already beautiful fall colors of red and gold.   The image that sticks with me from this trip, however, is reaching the end of the marked trail and seeing the Savage River valley stretch off into the seemingly infinite Alaska wilderness.

The Savage River heads off into the Alaskan wilderness, and the untapped possibilities ahead.

 

#17) Patriot Day at Minute Man National Historical Park – April 2005
The American Revolution began with the “shots heard ’round the world” in the villages of Lexington and Concord, an event now marked every year as Patriots’ Day in the State of Massachusetts.  Normally, visiting a national park in the morning is a good way to beat the crowds – but not on Patriots’ Day in and around Minute Man National Historical Park.  A reenactment is held each year on Lexington Green (technically not part of the National Park Service’s property), followed by commeorative ceremonies at Old North Bridge in Concord.  The event begins  in Lexington at 5:30am – and literally every parking lot in the village of Lexington is packed.  Savvy locals get there even earlier than that with step ladders to provide viewing points for their young children.  The reenactment event itself, true to history, only lasts a few minutes; the Americans fire a few shots, the British fire back, and the Americans run,   Afterwards, it seems that almost everyone heads over to the local Catholic Church, located just off the Green, to enjoy a pancake breakfast sponsored by the local Boy Scout Troop.  Smart thinking by those Scouts!

The statue of the Minute Man, located just off Lexington Green, in the soft glow of sunrise on Patriots’ Day.

 

#16) Sequoia National Park, Home of the Big Trees – August 2009
In 2009, I attended my first Convention of the National Park Traveler’s Club, held that year at Sequoia National Park.  It was great to spend the weekend with so many people who were dedicated to visiting the U.S. National Park System, especially in such a stunning setting.  Although I had previously seen the world’s tallest trees at Redwood National Park, it was little preparation for seeing the true giants of the Kingdom of Life growing on the edges of alpine meadows.  Looking up, it can be somewhat hard to comprehend the soaring heights of the Redwood.  On the other hand, when you stand at the base of sequoia that is many times the circumference of any other tree you have ever seen, there is no mistaking that you are in the land of giants.

Sequoias often grow best on the edges alpine meadows, which create particularly picutresque settings.
Sequoias often grow best on the edges alpine meadows, which create particularly picutresque settings.

Perhaps nothing illustrates the sheer size of these trees quite like this picture of a toppled sequoia.  Even laid flat on its side, the sequoia still towers over the trees around it.

Sequoias remain larger than life, even in death.
Sequoias remain larger than life, even in death.  Yes, that is young sequoia from the next generation in the distance.

 

#15) Waking up to Bison at Breakfast at Theodore Roosevelt National Park – July 2004
If you talk to enough travelers in the U.S. National Parks, many of them are likely to agree: Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota (of all places!) is one of the true hidden gems of the whole U.S. National Park System.   I previously blogged a little bit about this Park back in December 2014. and highlighted the spectacular scenary, the history of Theodore Roosevelt’s days as a rancher in this area, and the unusual rock concretions in the shape of mushrooms.  On my trip in 2004, however, the biggest surprise was waking up in the morning in the Juniper Campground in the Park’s North Unit to the sounds and smells of herd of bison wandering their way through the campground!   I guess that when you are bison, you go where you please, and in this case, that was right past our tent!   Normally, Park Rangers wisely advise everyone to keep a very respectful distance from bison – but in this case that wasn’t an option!  Suffice to say that I got as close to the snorting and grunting bison as I will ever want to be.   Fortunately, nobody was hurt, and the memories were unforgettable!

With a site like this right outside your tent, you don't even need to wait for your coffee in the morning!
With a site like this right outside your tent, you don’t even need to wait for your coffee in the morning!

 

#14) Father’s Day Riding the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad at Cuyahoga Valley National Park – June 2013
Like many young boys, my now-four-year-old Juniot T-Rex has long had a love affair with trains.  So when travels to visit family took us through northeast Ohio on Father’s Day weekend in 2013, there was an obvious way to combine daddy’s love of national parks and son’s love of trains – a trip on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.   Suffice to say my little T. Rex was beside himself with joy to be riding the train.  The conductors even let him help punch the tickets while on board.   The train  railroad provides service from nearby Canton to various stops throughout the Park, and runs frequently enough that it can even be used to support a short visit or hike within the Park before being boarded for a return trip.

A trip on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad is a joy for kids both big and small.  Photo from 2005.
A trip on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad is a joy for kids both big and small. Photo from 2005.

 

#13) Backpacking with Friends at Death Valley National Park – January 2009
On my first visit to Death Valley National Park, in January 2005, I remember feeling profoundly small.  That shouldn’t be much of a surprise, considering that Death Valley has one of the largest vertical elevation gains in the country, from 282 feet below sea level at Badwater Basin to more than 11,000 feet in elevation on nearby Telescope Peak.

In January 2009, I returned with two of my friends from college for an overnight trip in the Death Valley backcountry.   Backpacking is itself a humbling experience, especially in a desert park like Death Valley, as everything you need for survival in the loneliness of the backcountry must be carried in with you.  After our excursion, we did take some time to take in the salt flats in Badwater Basin and enjoy the otherworldly landscape of the lowest point in the United States.

Three friends celebrating a successful hike to the back-country
Three friends celebrating a successful hike in the Death Valley back-country with some sight-seeing at the lowest point in North America.

 

#12) New Year’s Eve at the Lincoln Memorial – December 2007
I’ve previously blogged about my love for the Lincoln Memorial.   I’ve actually twice spent New Year’s Eve at the Lincoln Memorial.  The first time, in 1999, was for Washington’s commemoration of the turning of the Millenium.  That event was nice enough, with the highlight being when they shot fireworks off the scaffolding that was then-surrounding the Washington Monument.  The down-side is that it was very much a made-for-TV event.  So, when the TV Network went to a commercial break, everything stopped and you were reminded that you were standing in the cold and in the mud, with nothing to do until the commercial break ended.   So that event doesn’t make my Top 30.

However, eight years later I returned to the Lincoln Memorial on New Year’s Eve, with my then-fiancee, the future Mrs. Parkasaurus.  Many people may not realize, but Washington actually does not normally have an outdoor New Year’s Eve event.  So on December 31st, 2007 it almost felt like my fiancee had the illuminated Memorials on the National Mall to ourselves.   As we climbed the steps of the Lincoln Memorial just before midnight, we shared that special moment  transitioning from one year to the next with just the security guard and two other couples who had similar ideas.  It was a fantastic New Year’s Eve like no other.

The view from the top of the Lincoln Memorial at night is one to be savored. Photo from July 2011.

 

#11) The 150th Anniversary of the Civil War at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park – September 2012
For the past four years, the National Park Service has put on a number of events marking the Civil War Sesquicentennial.  Although as a family with two young children, we have attended fewer of these events than I might otherwise have liked, we definitely made it a special point to go to some of the events marking the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Harper’s Ferry, given our special connection to this Park.   We’re glad that we did.

On the night of September 12, 2012 costumed interpreters from the National Park Service helped recreate several scenes from the night of September 12, 1862.   That was the night that Union troops,  recognizing that their position was indefensible, abandoned the town of Harpers Ferry to be captured by the Confederates the next day.  Visitors were led by lantern light to various locations around the historic downtown where the costumed interpreters using material from actual letters and diary entries from 1862 really helped recreate some of the thoughts and emotions that various townspeople in Harpers Ferry must have been feeling on that night – both those who would be leaving, as well as those who would be left behind.   Quite simply it was not a night that I will not soon forget.

Harper’s Ferry National Historical Park is where history happens. Photo from April 2015.

I hope you enjoyed Part II of my 30 for 300 retrospective.

In case you missed it, here is a link to Part I with #’s 21-30, here is Part III with #’s 1-10, and here are the Honorable Mentions.

Part II Pictures

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