It has been quite an adventure to explore how the National Park Service works to share and preserve history and nature with visitors. As I toured through Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway, Shenandoah National Historical Park, and Harper’s Ferry National Historical Park, I learned about numerous initiatives to carry out the NPS mission. Each park had a little bit of different focus whether it be history or nature… but all strove to communicate effectively with visitors and protect their sites for future generations.
Ways to Preserve:
Developing partnerships with other organizations is a great way for National Parks to preserve historical and natural sites! Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park is a good example of a partnership park since the NPS only owns about 70 of the 1500 acres and works with groups like the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Belle Grove, Inc to put on programs. Particularly during an economic recession, partnerships are the way to split up costs to keep parks clean and preserved. Even larger parks like Shenandoah National Historical Park work with partner organizations to enhance public communication and funding. For example, the Shenandoah National Park Association creates park books and products to sell and gives the money made to NPS education programs. The Shenandoah National Park Trust also works within the local community to raise money for park projects.
- A key to successful preservation is getting visitors involved. Park rangers can encourage the public to not litter or feed animals by giving informational talks or passing out pamphlets. The ultimate goal is to help the public build a closer relationship with nature, learn to respect their surroundings, and develop a desire to preserve parkland for the future.
Environmental initiatives put in place by the Park Service help to protect natural surroundings and wildlife. The scenic easements along the Blue Ridge Parkway, for example, prevent too much human development from scarring the Valley. Also, the Natural Resource Management Program at Shenandoah National Park records plants and animals within the park area and helps to monitor their numbers.
- One way to preserve historic buildings is to research their histories in depth. For example, researchers spent months of careful study to restore Belle Grove plantation to way it would have looked in 1700s.
Ways to Share:
- Education programs are fantastic ways to share history and nature with visitors. At Shenandoah National Park, people can attend a number of different programs like a “Birds of Prey” lesson where they can see raptors up close. Harper’s Ferry offers battlefield tours as well as information sessions on the significant events that helped shape the town. Historic events become all the more interesting when you actually get to see and explore the areas they took place. Many of the parks also host nature hikes where rangers describe and point out the local flora and fauna.
Museums allow people to read about and explore park history. Seeing pictures and hearing stories truly makes the remote past seem a lot closer. Shenandoah National Park had a large museum at Big Meadows celebrating the creation of the park and the environmental policies the Park Service follows today. This museum also had several interactive elements that enhanced the visitor learning process.
- Reenactment programs capture attention and really draw visitors into the time period. We got to witness the Great Train Raid at Cedar Creek Battlefield where a group of reenactors created the historic train pull along the Valley Pike that took place during the Civil War. There were also lots of people in period dress at Harper’s Ferry to answer questions and help with the kids programs.
- Visual Diagrams can show how particular areas are laid out as well as make ranger talking points a little more clear. The Shenandoah Valley diagram that a ranger created for us at Cedar Creek really helped me to understand the Valley’s set up and gave me a sense for how the Great Train Raid would have worked.
- In addition to visual diagrams, educational materials like pamphlets and brochures can provide a lot of basic information about the sites with parks. All four of the parks I visited handed out informative maps and literature describing famous stories or highlighting areas of interest.
Kids Programs are great ways to inspire early interest in history and nature. The hands-on approach to learning at Harper’s Ferry looked to be both fun and informative at the same time.
All About Balance
In simple terms, balancing is the key to the National Parks’ success! It all comes back to the National Park Service’s mission to:
“… promote and regulate the use of the… national parks… which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations” (National Park Service Organic Act, 16 U.S.C.1.).
Although the goals presented in the mission statement seem to compete with one another, the NPS has taken great efforts to balance them. The NPS Symbol visually shows the balancing act Park’s must perform. The bison and sequoia tree represent animals and plants, the mountains and lake stand for human recreational enjoyment, and the encompassing arrowhead represents historical focus and preservation.
So here are my final thoughts on why National Parks are great places to visit and important to preserve:
- Parks provide areas relatively untouched by human development so visitors can reconnect with nature and enjoy calm reflection. Limited human development also helps to protect plants and wildlife.
- Parks promote a sense of “shared national identity” by preserving and sharing sites that help make America a unique place (Vail Agenda, 13– see June 8 “A Balancing Act” entry for complete citation). Blue mountains, expansive forests, historic buildings, and old battlefields all contribute to the American story.
- Parks can be fun and informative at the same time. There are numerous recreation opportunities like hiking, biking, and rafting as well as educational programs about surrounding wildlife and historical stories.
I have really enjoyed my time exploring the parks of the Shenandoah Valley. I hope you take the time to hike along a forested trail, listen to birds singing, read a park publication, bike on a parkway, tour a historic home, attend a ranger presentation, or simply take a enjoy a quiet moment of contemplation in a National Park. You’ll be glad you did!!!