I recently had occasion to visit one of the newest national parks, the Harriet Tubman – Underground Railroad National Monument on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. There’s very little doubt that Harriet Tubman’s profile in American History and in modern-day American imagination makes her worthy of being honored with a site in the U.S. National Park System. There’s also no question that for years the absence of a national park site dedicated to the Underground Railroad was a surprising omission. However, the simple truth is that when it comes to historical places, time is not always kind.
Nevertheless, the significance of Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad is beyond dispute. Moreover, the State of Maryland was particularly eager to establish this national park as a catalyst for tourism on the Eastern Shore, which culminated in President Obama using the Antiquities Act to proclaim the area as a National Monument and the 399th unit of the U.S. National Park System in March 2013.
There’s no question that visiting a brand-new national park is much different than visiting one that has been fully established. You won’t see many NPS Rangers in their wide-brimmed hats for one. In fact, there is not yet an official visitor center, no scheduled ranger programs, and in fact, there is not yet much in the way of any interpretive materials.
That doesn’t mean, however, that a visit can’t be worthwhile. If you are interested in the Passport Program, there are currently a whopping three different cancellations to collect:
- Cambridge, MD – This is the main stamp for the Park, and is kept at the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center, as many of the main sites for this park are located within the Wildlife Refuge boundaries.
- Harriet Tubman Organization – This is kept at the Harriet Tubman Museum in downtown Cambridge. This site has very limited hours, mostly in the middle of the day, so be sure to check ahead. There also isn’t really much a musuem just yet, but these are the offices for the non-profit association that will be helping this new national park get off the ground.
- Harriet Tubman Scenic Byway – This is kept at the Dorchester County Visitor Center at Sailwinds Park, which is the main tourism visitor center for the area.
To visit this Park, definitely stop at the Dorchester County Visitor Center, regardless of whether you collect the stamps. You can pick up the official NPS Unigrid Brochure for the park here, as well as two brochures on the Harriet Tubman Scenic Byway. The Byway will take you past severl of the places that are part of the official National Monument, as well as beyond into the surrounding areas, as you follow the story of Harriet Tubman’s life.
Better yet, before you go, be sure to download the Harriet Tubman Scenic Byway app for your smart phone. You will want to make sure that you do the download before you go as it requires a download of extra data once you open the app for the first time, and you’ll want to use a wi-fi connection to do that. The app really enhances the Harriet Tubman experience, though, bringing her story to life with all the production values of an old-school radio play.
Although there is not much to see just yet, other than the landscape which in many places is little-changed from when Harriet Tubman lived here, it is still possible to bring this story to life.
Meanwhile, progress is being made – here is what the site of the future visitor center, to be operated by the Maryland State Park Service, currently looks like: