As I started planning my cross-country motorcycle trip for this summer, my intent was to visit as many friends and National Parks as possible. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long into the planning process to realize that both friends and the 63 National Parks are pretty spread out across the country and don’t make for an efficient road trip. There’s no way to visit everyone and experience everything that I want to in one riding season (I’m pretty averse to cold!). This realization spurred me to dig a little deeper into the National Park System in order to open my aperture for sites to visit and figure out friends I can visit in the vicinity. I discovered that I was woefully uneducated regarding our National Park System!
I think most of us can conjure up at least a half dozen National Parks by name – Great Smokey Mountains, Zion, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, and Rocky Mountain for example. But did you know that the National Park Service currently manages 423 individual named “units” covering more than 85 million acres in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories? There are at least 19 naming designations. In addition to Parks, there are units nationally recognized for their natural value such as monuments, preserves, lakeshores, seashores, rivers, scenic riverways, scenic trails, and historical trails. Other units are preserved or restored to reflect their appearance during the period of their greatest historical significance and designated as historic sites, military parks, battlefields, battlefield parks, battlefield sites, monuments, historical parks, and historic sites. There are memorials to commemorate a subject, recreation areas that encompass lands and waters set aside for recreational use by acts of Congress, parkways that include ribbons of land flanking roadways, and even areas set aside for performing arts.
As much as I love our National Parks, I absolutely acknowledge that the lands for them were “acquired” under dubious means at best. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more empathetic to the plight of others, specifically trying to imagine how I personally would’ve felt and reacted if I were put in a similar situation. I’m pretty sure I would feel that the current management of National Parks land was not the best possible outcome if I were Native American. Over two decades of serving this country has spurred me to balance my deep seated, visceral patriotism with the realization that the American experience is not the same for all of its inhabitants. I will be mindful of this fact and make efforts to seek out multiple sides of the stories I will experience as I visit each National Park unit and share them with you.
So, now that I know there are 423 unique opportunities to experience and appreciate the beauty and history of this country, I feel a sense of urgency to get started – so I have! I purchased a National Parks “passport” and have already gotten stamps for five National units: four in Florida (Castillo de San Marcos Natl Monument, Fort Matanzas Natl Monument, Fort Caroline Natl Memorial, and Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve) and one in North Carolina (Guilford Courthouse Natl Memorial Park). Interestingly, they are all military related. I’ve visited dozens of Natl Park units in years past, so my goal is to experience as many new ones as possible in 2022. Let the planning continue!