One of the more unusual oddities about the 401 U.S. National Parks is that some of them are national parks without being national parks. What do I mean?
Just take a look at the names of the of the following parks, all of which count towards the total of 401 U.S. National Parks:
- Catoctin Mountain Park
- Fort Washington Park
- Greenbelt Park
- Piscataway Park
- Prince William Forest Park
- Rock Creek Park
You may notice that all of these parks are missing the word national. They are simply parks, not national parks, even though all of them are run by the National Park Service. All of the above are within day-trip distance of Washington, DC – and so all seem to owe their designation in some way to the special history and relationship of our Federal government to the Nation’s Capital. Here’s a bit more-detailed run-down of each of these six. I will have to do a follow-up post on two other parks that also included in this group:
Catoctin Mountain Park is easily the most-scenic out of these six. Located on the Maryland-Pennsylvania border, it protects from development the area immediately surrounding the Camp David Presidential Retreat. Recreational opportunities include several hiking trails and campgrounds, including several cabins and lodges.
Fort Washington Park is perhaps surprisingly included in this category, rather than being designated a national monument or a national historic site. This is one of at least a half-dozen national park sites that preserves the story of coastal defenses in the United States during the 19th Century (coastal defense forts were built to last – so they tend to make good historic sites.) Fort Washington is located in Maryland, just downstream of Washington, DC on the Potomac River. Today in addition to historical programs, it is a very popular picnic site for the local community.
Greenbelt Park is located in the planned community and Washington, DC suburb of Greenbelt, MD. Greenbelt is one of three planned communities that arose out of the Great Depression, the others being Greenhils, OH near Cincinnati and Greendale, WI near Milwaukee. I’ve often thought that it would be interesting for Greenbelt Park to develop a visitor center and exhibits dedicated to the history of urban planning in this country – but for now it is primarily a recreational park of mostly local interest. If you are planning to visit the Nation’s Capital and would prefer to camp, rather than get a hotel room, then Greenbelt Park is the place to go – as it is a very short drive from the Greenbelt Metro Station.
Piscataway Park is located not that far from Fort Washington Park in southern Maryland. It was originally set aside to preserve the natural view from Mount Vernon, George Washington’s historic estate, on the Virginia side of the Potomac River. (Interestingly, Mount Vernon would rank near the top of any list of “most famous places in the U.S. that are not national parks” – but that’s a topic for anotherpost.) In addition to preserving the sightlines for moder-day visitors to Mount Vernon, Piscataway Park also hosts the National Colonial Farm – a living history park of Colonial Farming practices. This makes it one of at least three living history colonial farms in the National Park System, along with the Claude Moore Colonial Farm on the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Northern Virginia and the farm at the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial in Indiana.
Prince Wiliam Forest Park is very similar to Greenbelt Park in primarily a recreational park primarily of local interest near Quanitco Marine Corps Base, a little more than an hour south of Washington, DC in northern Virginia. There are several hiking trails in the park, including the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail, as well as a large campground, and the park loop road is very popular with joggers and bicyclists. There are also a number of interpretive displays here on the role of the Civilian Conservation Corps in building this park during the Great Depression. This park also has more than a few hidden gems, including a historic pyrite mine and a tree stump from a petrified forest.
Finally, Rock Creek Park is located right within Washington, DC itself. Its interesting to note that it was established by Congress all the way back in 1890, four days before Yosemite National Park was established – making it one of the oldest parks in the U.S. National Park System. Although it is more than twice as large as New York’s Central Park – it is largely managed as wild area, rather than as manicured landscape. Among the recreational highlights of the park are a Planitarium at the Rock Creek Park Nature Center, as well as horse stables.
All told, none of these six parks would be at the top of one’s list if you were visiting the United States from another country, or even if you were visiting the east coast from the other side of the country. With that being said, all of them have their highlights and interesting bits of history to investigate, particularly if you are attempting to be a “park completist.”Share this Parkasaurus post: