Romance of the National Parks





PERHAPS the best introduction to the eastern mountain wilderness is The Appalachian Trail, which was first proposed by Benton MacKaye in 1921, and which has been realized since by the use of existing trails and the building and maintenance of new trails and feeders by the mountain and trail clubs along the way. "Mr. MacKaye," wrote Myron Avery in American Forests, "conceived the plan of a trail which, for all practical purposes, should be endless. He regarded it as the backbone of a primeval environment, a sort of retreat or refuge from a civilization which was becoming too mechanized." The trail starts at Mt. Katahdin, "a massive granite monolith in the central Maine wilderness," and runs for a distance of 2,050 miles south to Mt. Oglethorpe, in northern Georgia. Only part of Mt. Katahdin is in public ownership, but it is hoped that the entire mountain where the wilderness trail begins can be made a park, and the surrounding forests, insofar as they have been injured, allowed to revert to their previous wild condition.

The trail touches Grafton Notch, the White and Green Mountains, Mt. Greylock, Mohawk and Bear Mountains, Delaware Water Gap, and South Mountain before it reaches Shenandoah National Park.

MT. KATAHDIN, MAINE (ABOVE) BEGINS THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL Photograph—Department of the Interior, Courtesy—Portfolio, American Planning and Civic Association

CHIMNEY ON ARMADILLO (left), GREEN SLAB (right) Photograph—M. B. Howorth, Courtesy—Appalachia


The Shenandoah National Park preserves the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a part of the Appalachian system in Virginia between the Piedmont Plateau and the Shenandoah Valley, extending from Front Royal almost to Waynesboro, a distance of nearly a hundred miles. Though there is a Skyline Drive along most of the crest of the park, in most places the Appalachian Trail is well removed from the highway. Those who hike over the main and side trails of the Shenandoah Park are usually surprised at the feeling of remoteness and at the wilderness charm of much of the region. The Hawksbill, Old Rag, and other trails lead into rough country, and will remain among the favorite hikes of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club. President Hoover's Rapidan Camp, which the Federal Government received by gift, is within the park.

There were different schools of thought concerning the Skyline Drive. Many of the hikers thought that the few old "horse-and-buggy" dirt access roads, unsuitable for automobiles, should never have been replaced by improved access and crest-line highways. It should be remembered, however, that at best Shenandoah Park is a narrow strip, flanked closely by inhabited valleys, so that, highway or no highway, the sense of remoteness is due to favorable topography, which provides an illusion of distance where there is no great distance. The rugged crests, the finely timbered valleys, and the plashing of waterfalls contribute to that sense of isolation, though all the time there are nearby habitations. The land belonging to the mountaineer settlers within the park has been purchased and allowed to revert to wilderness.

There are stretches of the Skyline Drive which give to the motorist some of the wilderness aspects. There are places where, from a car window, one may see in the misty distance crest on crest of mountain spurs, with no glimpse of the busy towns so near in the valleys below. At other outlooks the view includes the smoke of scores of towns, picturesque enough, as seen from the mountain tops. Many of those familiar with the principal western parks have commented enthusiastically on the great beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains as seen from the Skyline Drive. It must be admitted that there are some lovely spots on the drive which were once much prized by hikers and which are now so near the highway that they have lost most of their charm, but The Appalachian Trail in the park is really very well located, and its users are little bothered by the highway, which, after all, gives them easy access to the forested valleys and high peaks. Considering the narrowness of the park, it is rather a miracle that both the highway and the trail interfere so little.

In the spring when the dogwood scallops with frothy white embroidery the edges of the spruce and hemlock forests, and later, when the dainty dimity pink of the laurel stitches in its rosy note of color, the Shenandoah is very lovely. Every year there are countless trips to see the beds of modest trilliums, white and pink and painted. From the time when the trailing arbutus puts out its delicate fairy cups and the yellow lady's slipper hangs its charming blossoms on the green of the forest floor, through the weeks of the brilliant red-bud, the pink and white azaleas, the more showy rhododendrons, to the October days when the hardwood forests are painted bright red and yellow and brown in a glorious riot of color, the Shenandoah provides for thousands of those who live in nearby Atlantic seaboard cities, the peace and recreation which come from forest, mountain, and stream. As the park is becoming known, visitors come to it from all parts of the United States.



Ever since the days when Charles Egbert Craddock captured the imagination of the American people with her novel, "The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains," the curling mists of the Smokies, which look so much like rising wreaths of smoke, have cast a spell of enchantment over those who looked from the valleys of North Carolina and Tennessee into these mysterious mountains.

When the five hundred miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway are completed, one will be able to drive the length of the Shenandoah from Front Royal on through Virginia, and by a spreading fork enter the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from the east or the west, then crossing the Divide at Newfound Gap, from which a spur runs out to Clingmans Dome.

There are about seventy-five miles of The Appalachian Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, traversing Old Black, Guyot, Chapman, Laurel Top, Kephart, Clingmans Dome, Silers Bald, Thunderhead, and Gregory and Parsons Balds. In the northern part of the park the forests are dense spruce and fir, but in the southern part there are hardwood forests and many mountains bald of any forest cover. Carlos Campbell, in American Forests, gave an excellent account of an eight-day hike which covered the trail within the Smoky Mountains, "the roughest and highest portion of the entire Appalachian Trail." The crest of the Great Smokies for thirty-six miles in the park is more than 5,000 feet in altitude, with sixteen peaks above 6,000 feet high.

IN GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK Photograph—Department of the Interior, Courtesy—Portfolio, American Planning and Civic Association



RHODODENDRONS IN GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK Photograph—Department of the Interior, Courtesy—Portfolio, American Planning and Civic Association

VIRGIN HARDWOODS IN GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK Photograph—George Masa, Courtesy—Portfolio, American Planning and Civic Association

This park gives us our largest wilderness area in the East. The rugged mountain crests, the virgin spruce, the fine variety of hardwoods, and the heavy rainfall which produces a rich forest floor, give to the Smokies a tropical luxuriance not found in any other mountain region in the United States, with the possible exception of the Olympics. There are in the park 129 native tree species and twenty varieties of large shrubs. Tourists come from afar to see the rhododendrons bloom in June. On a single trip up the mountain, at different levels mountain laurel, flame azaleas, and rhododendrons may be seen in their full glory. The native flower gardens of the Smokies, though quite different from the western types, rival them in color and growth.

Six hundred miles of trout streams are in the park. There are 56 miles of high-grade roads, 25 miles of secondary roads, 165 miles of truck trails (not public), and 510 miles of horse and foot trails.

On the top of Mt. LeConte there is a lodge to which all supplies are taken on pack animals. The sunrise and sunset views from Myrtle Point and other vantage lookouts are magnificent, and well repay the 5,000-foot climb from Gatlinburg to the mountain top. Accommodations may be found outside the park at Gatlinburg, Tennessee, near the park line, and in North Carolina towns somewhat farther from the park.


One established park and three authorized projects of "waterfront" national parks lie east of the Mississippi.


Far north on the coast of Maine, in what was once French territory, Acadia National Park preserves the Mt. Desert Mountains, "whose ancient uplift, worn by immeasurable time and recent ice erosion, remains to form the largest rock-built island on our Atlantic coast, 'l'Isle des Monts deserts,' as Champlain named it." As early as 1855 summer visitors began to come to Mt. Desert Island because of its beauty and cool summer climate. In 1914, 5,000 acres of the island were offered to the National Government by the Hancock County Trustees of Public Reservations, and in 1916 President Wilson proclaimed the area to be the Sieur de Monts National Monument. In 1919, by Act of Congress, the area was included in the Lafayette National Park, and ten years later, when the park was enlarged, its name was changed to Acadia. George B. Dorr has given lands, money, and watchful oversight to Acadia, where he has served as superintendent and host for many years.


TRAIL ON TOP OF CADILLAC MOUNTAIN Courtesy—Portfolio, American Planning and Civic Association

THE THUNDERHOLE Photographs—Department of the Interior, Courtesy—Landscape Architecture

The native growth of the Acadian forest has, for the most part, escaped fires and human destruction. There are many varieties of pine and spruce, balsam firs, larches and arborvitae among the conifers, and a wide selection among the hardwoods.

But the great appeal of Acadia lies in the high, rocky cliffs and the beating surf of the Atlantic Ocean. From the mountain tops and from many vantage points along the driveway up Cadillac Mountain one may look out over the deep blue waters, with the many wooded and rocky promontories. The auto caravans, with ranger naturalists in charge, are very popular in this park, as are also the sea cruises around Frenchman Bay. In addition to the motor roads, there are some fifty miles of roads restricted to the use of saddle and driving horses, and this gives a taste of the age before the advent of automobiles. There are 150 miles of trails and footpaths—charming walks all, with many fine views. Accommodations are to be found outside the park in the various villages. The park headquarters are at Bar Harbor.


Lying just below the international water boundary in Lake Superior is Isle Royale, the largest island in the lake. Through Acts of Congress, dating from 1931, the Federal Government has indicated its desire to accept Isle Royale as a national park.

The picturesque rocky shore-line reminds one of Acadia National Park, and when Lake Superior rages in storm, the breaking surf completes the simile. The rolling hills and bare granite ledges are softened in the hazy summer air, and in the scrubby forests and on the shores of the numerous little lakes are found moose, coyotes, beaver, and other forest animals. In the waters are famous lake trout, whitefish, and muskellunge or pike.

Those who have been traveling by boat to this distant island for their summer vacations report that they acquire here a feeling of remoteness and peacefulness which seems to be one of the psychological tests for national-park fitness, along with other qualifications of land and water resources.

MOOSE IN ISLE ROYALE, LAKE SUPERIOR Photograph—E. V. Butler, Courtesy—American Forests


On August 17, 1937, Congress authorized the acceptance of the first National Seashore, to cover historic Cape Hatteras and its lighthouse off the coast of North Carolina, covering roughly 100 square miles on the islands of Chicamacomico, Ocracoke, Bodie, Roanoke, and Collington. H. E. Weatherwax, writing in Landscape Architecture, makes the claim that "The North Carolina banks offer the finest type of Atlantic seacoast country. The area has never been developed, and its glistening beaches extend uninterrupted for miles. The series of barrier islands, or bars, on which the national seashore will be established were built of sand washed up from the sea and distributed by long-shore currents. The foundations of the barrier were laid during the last stages of the ice age, when so much water was locked in the polar ice sheets that the level of the sea was 25 feet or more lower than at present. The beach ridge formed at that time is thought to have produced islands or shoals when the sea was raised to its present level by the melting of the ice. These were converted into the existing barrier formations by wave action."

THE SHIFTING SANDS AND WIND-BLOWN TREES. CAPE HATTERAS SEASHORE Photographs—Department of the Interior, Courtesy—Landscape Architecture


On the southwest end of the peninsula in Florida, extending south of any other continental territory of the United States, we have the Everglades—a water-logged wilderness of twisted mangroves, penetrated by a complicated maze of water channels which may be navigated by boats. The whole region is rich in tropical bird life—blue herons, white egrets and ibises, brilliant red flamingoes, filling the air with their cloudy flights and perching on limbs of trees like so many huge blossoms. The Everglades, authorized to be accepted by the Federal Government as a gift, will one day be one of the most unique parks in the system. But haste is needed if the disastrous effects of forest fires and the predatory operations of the bird killers are to be circumvented.




The Colonial National Historical Park, authorized by the Cramton Act of 1930, sets aside Jamestown Island, the site of the first permanent English settlement in North America; parts of the city of Williamsburg (privately owned and restored by funds furnished by Mr. John D. Rockefeller, Jr.); and Yorktown, where in 1781 the French and Americans besieged and captured the Army of Cornwallis in the last important battle of the Revolution.

No one who visits this cradle of American liberties can fail to be thrilled with the quaintness of quiet old Yorktown, where it is said there was established the first Custom House on American soil. The atmosphere of past centuries still hangs over this Virginia village, and many of the famous houses of Colonial times are still standing in gardens where the present-day paths follow the lines of the garden makers of the eighteenth century. In Yorktown there are museums to interpret the story, and many of the siege fortification features have been restored and the artillery emplacements reinstalled.


WAKEFIELD, THE RESTORED BIRTHPLACE OF GEORGE WASHINGTON Photograph—Department of the Interior, Courtesy—American Planning and Civic Annual

THE MOORE HOUSE AT YORKTOWN Photograph—Department of the Interior, Courtesy—American Planning and Civic Annual

A QUIET STREET IN OLD YORKTOWN, WHERE THERE IS A COLONIAL NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK Photograph—Virginia State Chamber of Commerce, Courtesy—Portfolio, American Planning and Civic Association


There is a charming parkway skirting the beautiful York River, which connects Yorktown and Williamsburg, where Mr. Rockefeller's restoration presents the old capital city, along lines discovered to be authentic through the study of old records. Today one may see the heart of Williamsburg very much as it was in Colonial times. The Duke of Gloucester Street extends from the rebuilt Capitol to the College of William and Mary, with its old and new buildings. From the Old Bruton Parish Church a cross axis approaches by a parked highway the Governor's Palace, set amid an elaborate garden of English box and flowers. Along the main street are many restored homes and the rebuilt Raleigh Tavern, where so many important historic events took place. As the restorations take on the patina of age, there will live here again the scene of old Williamsburg, an atmosphere which is fostered by the Colonial costumes worn by the guides.

On Jamestown Island, which will one day be the western terminus of the Yorktown Parkway, the excavations of the eighteenth-century foundations have brought to light more than 80,000 pottery fragments, some 75,000 glass fragments, 85,000 iron and nearly 50,000 clay-pipe fragments, which, when studied, will help us to reconstruct the daily lives of our earliest forebears on the Atlantic seaboard.

The second National Historical Park to be created was established in 1933 in New Jersey. Morristown Park preserves sites of important military encampments during the Revolution, the Ford Mansion, which served as Washington's headquarters during the crucial winter of 1779-80, other eighteenth-century houses, a museum and a collection of Washingtoniana.


THE FORD MANSION SERVED AS WASHINGTON'S HEADQUARTERS DURING THE WINTER OF 1779-1780. THE HOUSE IS NOW OPEN TO THE PUBLIC. Photograph—Department of the Interior, Courtesy—Portfolio, American Planning and Civic Association

Though these two parks are the only ones to be named officially National Historical Parks, there has developed a well-defined historical program in the National Park Service. From the time of its establishment in 1916, there have been included in the system areas of archeological and historical interest. From eight in 1916, these have grown to more than 100 in 1938. By the Act of August 21, 1935, Congress declared it to be a national policy to preserve historic and archeological sites of national significance for the pleasure and benefit of the people. The Secretary of the Interior was granted broad powers intended to place upon the National Park Service responsibility for leadership in a renewed nationwide movement to conserve our remaining unprotected historic and archeological treasures. As a part of this program, the Historic American Buildings Survey was initiated by the National Park Service, and includes among its accomplishments a permanent working agreement with the Fine Arts Division of the Library of Congress and the American Institute of Architects to measure and record the irreplaceable architecture of the American past.

The American Antiquities Act of 1906, the Historic and Archeological Act of 1935, the appointment by the Secretary of the Interior of the Advisory Board of National Parks, Historic Sites, Buildings, and Monuments, of which Dr. Hermon C. Bumpus is chairman, and of the National Advisory Committee of the Historic American Buildings Survey, of which Dr. Leicester B. Holland is chairman, together with the transfer by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933 of all National Monuments to the National Park Service, have conspired to develop a consistent program.

Among many National Military Parks transferred were those of Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge, and Lookout Mountain, near Chattanooga, Tennessee; six great Civil War battlefields, near Fredericksburg in Virginia, Gettysburg in Pennsylvania, Shiloh in Tennessee, and Vicksburg in Mississippi. The Park Service is preserving also such Historical Monuments in Florida as Fort Jefferson, largest all-masonry fortification in the Western World, built in 1846 for control of the Florida Straits, which served as a military prison during the Civil War; Fort Marion, oldest fort extant in the United States, originally Castle San Marcos, constructed of coquina by the Spanish to defend their Florida possessions; and Fort Mantanzas, an early Spanish stronghold.

When the Spanish Monuments in California and the Southwest are considered with those of Florida, it may readily be seen that, through the preservation of historic sites, the entire Spanish northern frontier which extended in a long three-thousand-mile arc from California to Florida, may be visualized and studied by students of history. When the fine archeological monuments of the Southwest are considered with such monuments as Ocmulgee in Georgia, which preserves an area near Macon, "containing the most unique and important Indian mounds in the Southeast, the excavation of which has thrown new light on the pre-Columbian Indian civilization," the possibilities of extensive archeological research in the known and yet-to-be-discovered prehistoric ruins seem unlimited. Here is a treasure house of source material for the study of American history, useful for research and for demonstration.

In the East, the first National Parkways have been developed. The George Washington Memorial Parkway from Mount Vernon, through Alexandria, to the Arlington Memorial Bridge leading into Washington, and now being extended to the Great Falls of the Potomac in Virginia, was the first to be undertaken in 1930. The Blue Ridge Parkway, already mentioned as connecting Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks, is now under construction, and the Colonial Parkway between Williamsburg and Yorktown is already in use. The Natchez Trace Parkway, authorized in 1934 and 1938, to follow the general location of the famous old Indian Trail between Nashville and Natchez, is now being surveyed.

Probably most of the national parks will one day be connected by parkways, with sufficient rights-of-way to protect the eyes of those who drive over them from any sort of objectionable encroachment, and making the most of the natural roadside scenery.

The National Park Service fell heir in 1933 to the park system of the Federal City, which, under the name District of Columbia, was first established by Act of Congress, approved July 16, 1790, and which has been under continuous Federal control ever since. There are nearly 7,500 acres in the system, covering more than 700 areas and about 75 national statues and memorials, among which are the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, and the Lee Mansion across the Potomac River in Arlington. Irving C. Root, formerly Chief Engineer and Administrative Officer of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, in 1940 became Superintendent of the National Capital Parks, succeeding C. Marshall Finnan, who was Superintendent from 1933, when, under the Executive Order of the President, the National Park Service took over the parks of the Federal City.

The entire eastern part of the United States is marked with statues of historic significance, with battlefields, with historic sites and buildings, with cemeteries in which lie the famous dead of our early history. Those who travel by motor, with the aid of the National Park Service may seek out as many of these historic reminders of the past as they have time to cover. This is a fascinating way to study the history of the United States.

One National Monument there is, last seen by every departing ocean passenger from the port of New York, and hailed by every returning patriot, who may see in it that pledge of individual independence from government oppression which it was meant to commemorate—the Statue of Liberty, holding high the lighted torch of liberal leadership, given by the French Government to the American people as visible evidence to the world of the French alliance which helped to establish the Republic of the United States of America.

THE STATUE OF LIBERTY—A NATIONAL MONUMENT Photograph—Department of the Interior, Courtesy—Portfolio, American Planning and Civic Association

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Last Updated: 18-Nov-2009