Lesson Plan

Shenandoah National Park: Virginia's Gift to the Nation

Cover of the Education Journal.

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Grade Level:
Fourth Grade-Tenth Grade
African American History and Culture, Climate Change, Conservation, Ecology, Economics, Environment, Geography, Government, History, Planning/Development, Public Policy, Recreation / Leisure / Tourism, Regional Studies, Social Studies, U.S. Presidents, Wilderness
2 - 3 Hours
Group Size:
Up to 36 (6-12 breakout groups)
National/State Standards:
Virginia Standards VS.1, VS.9, VS.10, USII.1, USII.2, USII.6, USII.9, CE.3, CE.9, English 6.1, 6.2, 6.6, 6.7, 6.9, Science 6.9, Earth Science ES.11


Shenandoah National Park is a significant part of our nation’s history as well as Virginia’s environment and economy. In this lesson, students will explore the historical, cultural, economic, and ecological significance of the Park through classroom activities and a field trip. This lesson addresses multiple Virginia Standards of Learning, providing an in-depth learning experience with cross-curricular activities in history, social studies, language arts, science, and math.


Following the park experience and classroom activities, the students will be able to:
1. Demonstrate skills for
  • historical and geographical analysis 
  • interpretation of ideas and events from different historical perspectives 
  • making connections between the past and the present 
  • analyzing primary and secondary source documents for understanding 
  • investigating public policy decisions relating to the environment 
2. Explain the purpose and the significance of the Shenandoah National Park and the National Park Service.
3. Describe meaningful connections between Shenandoah National Park and their home community.
4. Determine at least three actions people can take to care for their national park and the environment. 


The land that is now Shenandoah National Park was used by native people for at least 10,000 years before the arrival of Europeans. Artifacts show that some of those people traveled great distances to use the Blue Ridge Mountains for hunting and gathering food and resources they needed for survival.

As more and more settlers arrived from Europe in the 1600s, the native people, the land, the wildlife, the vegetation, and the other abundant resources were impacted. By the 1700s, eastern lands were crowding with people, so Virginia's Royal Governor, Alexander Spotswood, went in search of land farther west to settle. In 1716, his expedition crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains and reported the beauty and abundance of that land west of the mountains. By the mid-1700s, settlers began building homesteads and farms in the hollows at the eastern base of the Blue Ridge, and eventually higher up the mountain. Over time, the native animals were over hunted while much of the natural vegetation was replaced by homes and farms. Thus the natural ecosystem was profoundly changed.

As the young United States of America expanded westward, more wild lands were being "tamed" by settlers. Early conservationists began to advocate for protection of special and unique natural features and historic sites. In 1872, Yellowstone became the first national park in the world, set aside to protect a large natural area from unrestricted development.

In the early days of the national park idea, most national parks were in the western states where there was plenty of federal land with unique natural or historic features. These areas could be more easily designated as national parks. The US Army was responsible for the care and management of the national parks and historic sites. In 1916, the National Park Service was the new federal agency created to manage and care for the growing number of national parks. Because most of the United States population lived in the east, the desire for a large national park in the eastern United States, within a day's drive of millions of people grew steadily in the early 20th century. Stephen Mather, the first director of the National Park Service, believed that people in the east should have opportunities to enjoy a park similar to those that had been created in the west.

Congress authorized the creation of Shenandoah National Park in 1926. Unlike the western parks, one major obstacle in the creation of Shenandoah was that the authorized land was held by private landowners and often inhabited by tenant farmers. Congress had not authorized any funding to purchase land to create the park. It was left to the Commonwealth of Virginia to raise money to purchase land through public and private fund-raising. Some landowners sold readily while others did not want to leave their mountain homes and fought to keep their land. The Commonwealth of Virginia condemned the land and then purchased it, through the legal authority called eminent domain. The Commonwealth of Virginia donated the acquired land to the federal government in 1935 to establish Shenandoah National Park, nine years after it was first authorized by Congress. President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated the park at a ceremony in Big Meadows in 1936.

Today, Shenandoah National Park encompasses nearly 197,439 acres of mountain forests, historic sites, and 500 miles of hiking trails. The park is a refuge for rare plants and animals, the headwaters of three Virginia watersheds: Potomac-Shenandoah, Rappahannock, and James, and contains nearly 80,000 acres of federally designated wilderness. More than a million people visit the park each year to enjoy the natural and cultural resources protected in this national park. The park provides significant economic, educational, and ecological connections to local communities. The park's mission is to preserve and to protect this slice of nature and history for the enjoyment and benefit of all, now and in the future. 

This program was funded in part by a generous donation from the Shenandoah National Park Trust.


Materials include the student Research Journal for use on the field trip and a program evaluation form.


  1. Participation in activities and discussions. 
  2. Satisfactory completion of field trip learning activity. 
  3. Satisfactory completion of cooperative learning project to be graded using the project rubric. 

Park Connections

Shenandoah National Park is a collage of mountain forests, historic resorts and camps, 500 miles of trails, the headwaters of three Virginia watersheds: Potomac-Shenandoah, Rappahannock, and James, and almost 80,000 acres of federally designated Wilderness. Skyline Drive is the 105 mile-long highway that provides easy access to the park's nearly 200,000 acres of protected lands that includes mountain summits, expansive views of the Piedmont and Shenandoah Valley, deep forests, open meadows, meandering streams with cascading waterfalls, abundant wildlife, and remnants of past human residents.


1. Read Grandpa's Mountain by Carolyn Reeder. This is historical fiction with reference to local places and events. The story demonstrates the impact of the creation of the park on the people living on the land in the 1930s, the work of the CCC, and references the Great Depression. [Out of Print]

2. Have students write a letter demonstrating historically accurate information including date for creation of the park, setting, events, and personal impact from the point of view of one of the following individuals:a person being displaced from their mountain land by the creation of the park 
a politician making public policy decision for creation of the park 
a young man working for the Civilian Conservation Corp 
a tourist that has recently enjoyed the newly created Skyline Drive 

3. Have students research jobs associated with the National Park Service and the educational background, college major course of study, or other courses necessary to pursue those careers. 

4. Encourage students to take advantage of the many programs, talks, guided tours, hikes, and opportunities offered at Shenandoah National Park. Visiting the park is a great way to use summer time to get outdoors and to be immersed in nature. 

5. Encourage students to visit other national parks in the United States throughout their lives. 

6. Have students determine ways your school can help to protect our local and global environment.

7. As a class, identify a local site in your community that you feel should be protected and preserved. Come up with an action plan to present to community leaders.

Additional Resources

Foresta, R. A. (1984). America's National Parks and Their Keepers. Washington, D.C.: Resources for the Future.

Horning, A. J., &Amberson, J. (2004). In the Shadow of Ragged Mountain: Historical Archaeology of Nicholson, Corbin, &Weakley Hollows. Luray, VA: Shenandoah National Park Association.

Reeder, Carolyn, (1993) Grandpa's Mountain, New York: HarperTrophy Sherman, M., &Henry, T. R. (1933). Hollow Folk. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co.

US National Park Service. (2014, June 1). Education In Shenandoah. National Park Service. Retrieved June 25, 2014, from https://www.nps.gov/shen/learn/education/index.htm

US National Park Service. (2014, June 12). Our Changing World. National Park Service. Retrieved June 25, 2014, from https://www.nps.gov/shen/learn/photosmultimedia/our-changing-world.htm

US National Park Service. (2014, June 16). Shenandoah National Park Retrieved June 25, 2014, from https://www.nps.gov/shen/index.htm

National Park Service. (2014, May 21). National Park Service: Discover History and Historic Preservation in the National Park Service. National Parks Service. Retrieved June 25, 2014, from https://www.nps.gov/history/

Whisnant, A. M., &Whisnant, D. E. (2011). Shenandoah National Park Official Handbook. Virginia Beach, VA: Donning Co. Publishers.


eminent domain
Great Depression
New Deal

Last updated: March 31, 2015