National Park System

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!

View from top of Castillo de San Marcos Natl Monument in St. Augustine, FL. The site was claimed by the Spanish in 1560s and became a military stone fortress beginning in 1672. It became a focal point for the first Underground Railroad for escaped slaves in the 1730s, was occupied by the English in the 1760s, and returned to the Spanish in the 1780s, Though Florida joined the Confederacy during the Civil War, Union troops occupied the fort throughout the war. In the 1880s, the fort was used to imprison Native Americans captured out West. The fort is the oldest masonry fortification in the continental U.S. and now interprets more than 450 years of history.
Assortment of armament at Castillo de San Marcos Natl Monument in St. Augustine, FL.

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

View of Fort Matanzas as you approach the fortified coquina watchtower via ferry boat in St. Augustine, FL. It was completed in 1742 as a means to defend the southern approach to the Spanish military settlement of St. Augustine, FL.

Boat to ferry passengers from Fort Matanzas Visitor Center across Matanzas River to the fort.

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.

Short-lived French settlement of Fort Caroline on the banks of the St. Johns River in Jacksonville, FL in the 1560s. The area was occupied by Timucua Native Americans when Europeans first arrived to Florida in the 1500s, but by 1800, they had been completely wiped out.
The Ribault Monument commemorates the 1562 landing of Jean Ribault near the mouth of the St. Johns River. Though the original stone column erected by Ribault has been lost to time, this monument was originally erected on present day Naval Air Station Mayport in 1924, but was moved to it’s current location on St. Johns Bluff in 1958 in order to make it more accessible to the public.

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!

This road was the site of a bloody battle for independence on March 15, 1781 when British General Charles Lord Cornwallis’ army engaged the Continental army under Major General Nathanael Green at Guilford County Court House (near present day Greensboro, NC). Though outnumbered 2 to 1, the British “won” the battle, but lost 25% of their ranks and withdrew from the area after the battle.
Guilford County Courthouse National Military Park in Greensboro, NC is scattered with fascinating monuments and interpretive signs across well maintained paths that allow you to walk the actually battlefield.

3 thoughts on “National Park System

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  1. O-Tay! Let the preaching begin. First, we have yet to be disappointed in ANY National Park we have visited. All were great, and some were more greater. I don’t think you can go wrong. We have several DVD’s of parks we have visited. I will be happy to box them up and send them to you for your viewing pleasure. Just let me know. Second, don’t get too deep into your guilt trip about how we acquired our real estate. With the possible exception of antarctica, every piece of real estate on this planet has been acquired by force at one time or another. There were winners and there were losers, but right or wrong, that is the reality of the situation. Forced acquisitions are an ongoing project and will probably always be the state of affairs somewhere. All you have to do is look at the current situation in Ukraine. So, you can be sensitive to the process, but the outcome has already been decided. At least for today. Don’t let the past color your future.

    I envy your upcoming adventures. Ours are not over, but time and circumstances have slowed them down. I love to travel and see new things. I have terminal wanderlust.

    The only thing you can do wrong is to be in our neighborhood and not stop by. I will hunt you down!

    All ahead full!

    Chief

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Chief, I don’t disagree that the most powerful will always use that power to get what they want. I do believe, however, that our past should absolutely inform our future. Oh, and hang on to your DVDs…I don’t have a DVD player anymore and you can watch them all on a thing called the internet now 😉 Love you!

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      1. Unfortunately, everyone doesn’t always receive the same information from history. We tend to remember only that which validates our opinion.

        “watch them on the internet……blah blah blah…… can’t post my Bill the Cat sticking his tongue out, so you will just have to imagine it! I love you!!!!!

        Chief

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