The story below is an excerpt from our July/August 2016 issue. For the rest of this story and more like it subscribe today, log in to read our digital edition or download our FREE iOS app. Thank you!
The national parks in our region range from wide and wondrous to long and laden with American history. And, they’re celebrating with special events this summer, as the August 25 birthday of the park service nears.
On August 25, the National Park Service celebrates its 100th birthday. And what a whopping party it will be, spread across the 409 sites and 84 million acres the NPS manages. From coast to coast (with a few parks beyond those coasts), these protected areas represent the best this country has to offer. As writer Wallace Stegner said in 1893, “National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic.”
Each park or other site represents an important part of who we are as a nation. Some commemorate notable people or historical events, others conserve magnificent landscapes or important ecosystems. All provide a place to have fun and learn; all evoke memories.
I remember sprawling out on Shenandoah’s Blackrock gazing at the tiny Shenandoah farms and thinking that one day all my teenage problems would seem that small. A friend remembers shooting down a New River Gorge trail on her first mountain bike; another foraged for hickory nuts along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Folks share their memories onnps.gov/subjects/centennial/find yourpark.htm.
National parks and other nationally managed properties have planned a spate of activities to honor the 100th anniversary of the day President Woodrow Wilson signed the act creating the National Park Service. These include fee-free days on August 25-28, September 2, and November 11. Centennial-year events at NPS properties in the Blue Ridge region continue for months. Here are some highlights.
Harpers Ferry National Historical Park
Many associate Harpers Ferry with radical abolitionist John Brown’s raid in 1859. The NAACP and the first African-American college got their starts here. This little town was a hotbed of action in the Civil War, changing hands 14 times and seeing the war’s largest surrender of Union forces. Although casualties in the 1862 Battle of Harpers Ferry were low, a staggering number of U.S. soldiers—12,400—became federal prisoners.
For the NPS centennial, Harpers Ferry will trot out the big guns, as well as walking shoes and all sorts of hidden artifacts. Demos of the artillery of the Civil War Battle of Bolivar Heights will resound through town July 30-31 and August 27-28. On August 15, a behind-the-scenes tour of park collections will give a rare inside look at Harpers Ferry history. At the Confluence Festival August 20, folks can experience history through the soles of their feet, retracing the footsteps of the founders of the NAACP (then called the Niagara Movement) in a historic walk, as well as enjoying music and art downtown. We are a nation of immigrants, so the park will commemorate August 25 with a U.S. citizenship naturalization ceremony and patriotic music.
Harpers Ferry National Historical
Park, Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.
Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park is a band of land stretching 70 miles along the Virginia Blue Ridge, from Waynesboro north to Front Royal. Although rarely more than five miles wide, the park is laced with 500 miles of trails including 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail. Billion-year-old rocks, the oldest in Virginia, are found on these ridges—also the endangered Shenandoah Salamander, which lives only in the park.
Black bears, on the other hand, aren’t rare here; in fact, the park has one of the densest bear populations in the nation, about 1.5 per square mile. The park has also been the habitat of a U.S. President. Herbert Hoover built Camp Rapidan here and used it as the family retreat. Their cabin is known as the “Brown House” in contrast to their other residence, the White House.
Shenandoah National Park has planned two major events to commemorate the centennial: re-dedication of the restored observation platform atop Hawksbill Mountain and a quilt show with a national park theme. The historic stone viewing platform on the park’s tallest peak will be dedicated on August 20. The quilt show runs at the nearby Virginia Quilt Museum in Harrisonburg in August through September; another quilt show opens at Dickey Ridge Visitor Center in October.
Shenandoah National Park,
Luray, Virginia. 540-999-3500;
... The story above is an excerpt from our July/August 2016 issue. For the rest of this story and more like it subscribe today, log in to read our digital edition or download our FREE iOS app. Thank you!