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Our National Parks: The Roots of Conservation in America- Part 3

This is the third and final post from Freya’s Three Week Blitz! She is a former Bucktail and Ursids student, and monthly correspondent. Read her conclusion about national parks! 

For most Americans, those western parks were nice to think about, but kind of far away to actually visit; Easterners decided they’d like some parks a bit easier to get to.  For a long time there had been requests to create a park in the Southern Appalachian Mountains.  Shenandoah National Park was established in 1935 and Great Smokey Mountain National Park soon followed.  Because there are so many fewer eastern parks, and they are close to more populous areas, they get a whole lot more traffic than the western ones.

Last fall, we visited Shenandoah in Virginia – the closest National Park for us in Pennsylvania.  The park is basically a mountain ridge so it’s long and skinny.  We drove along its main road which has incredible overlooks off either side.



Along with being gorgeous in the fall, Shenandoah has a very interesting history.   When settlers came, Shawnee, Iroquois, Occoneechee, Monacans and Piscataways were hunting there.  By the 19th century, the eastern Native American populations had long been displaced.  Still, not everyone was happy about the new park.  Certainly the 500+ Scotch-Irish families who lived in the Shenandoah Valley weren’t.  They were forced to leave, and when they were gone, Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) volunteers came in, took down almost all the houses and sheds and covered up the human traces as best they could.  So, in Shenandoah the sense of wilderness was more created – from farmland and wood lots – than preserved.  They missed some homesteads, which can still be seen. (Fun fact – they also missed a few people, who refused to leave, and lived out the rest of their days in the park!).


When it was first named a park, Shenandoah wasn’t much to look at; because of logging, farming, grazing, and the chestnut blight, one third was completely deforested, and the rest was covered with very young forest, or brush.  The park’s forest is now protected but it still has it’s challenges: in the last few decades, its oaks have been hit hard by the gypsy moth, and here, the standing trunks are all hemlock trees, killed by the woolly adelgid.



This year, the National Park Service celebrates its 100th birthday!  I suggest that everyone go to a national park this summer and sing and eat birthday cake.  Today the main problem in our parks is actually overcrowding.  In popular parks, noise, erosion, littering, pollution and traffic can kinda wreck the magic of your visit, as well as compromise the wild places we’re trying to preserve.  The number of visitors to Yosemite has increased by 10% every year for the last 17 years.  Last year, Yellowstone saw a 17% increase in visits.  And of course in this special centennial year, an extra high turnout is expected in all the parks.  People are racking their brains for solutions to overcrowding.  In some parks, they’re running shuttle buses and limiting the number of hikers on trails.  Personally, I think the answer is simple: More national parks!! Who’s with me?!