Honor America’s Veterans This Memorial Day: A Tour Of Washington, D.C.’s War Memorials

Memorial Day should be something much more personal to Americans than just a paid day off, backyard barbeque or a sale at a department store.

Since 1775, over two million Americans have been killed or wounded in wars and military conflicts, and almost all Americans can look back into their family histories and find relatives who were wounded or killed while serving their country.

This should compel us to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom this Memorial Day. Here is a list of war memorials in the Washington, D.C. area that honor those who have lost their lives in service to our country, in no particular order:

World War II Memorial

The World War II Memorial. NPS photo.

The World War II Memorial. NPS photo.

This site pays homage to the 400,000 Americans that made the ultimate sacrifice in World War II. Legislation for the site was authorized by Congress, nearly 50 years after the war, and was dedicated by President George W. Bush in 2004. With the Washington Monument in the background, the plaza contains 56 pillars which represent the 48 states and eight U.S. territories.

District of Columbia War Memorial

Located in West Potomac Park, the District of Columbia War Memorial honors Washingtonians who lost their lives while serving during World War I. The Greek style temple contains 12 Doric columns and 47 feet high and 44 feet in diameter. The cornerstone of the structure contains a time capsule which lists the names of all 26,048 American soldiers who served.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial, NPS photo.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial, NPS photo.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Designed by Yale architecture student Maya Ying Lin, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is a moving tribute to the almost 60,000 Americans who were killed or went missing during the conflict. The memorial was constructed using private funds and was dedicated in 1982. Two years later, Frederick Hart’s Three Servicemen statue was added, and in 1993, women who served in Vietnam were honored by an additional statue sculpted by Glenna Goodacre. In 2004, the Memory Plaque was added to memorialize those who later died from causes related to the war.

Korean War Veterans Memorial

A moving tribute to those who served in the “Forgotten War”, the Korean War Veterans Memorial is filled with symbolism. Sculpted by Frank Gaylord, 19 soldiers are depicted walking up a hill towards an American flag symbolizing freedom. The words “Freedom is not free” are etched on a slab of granite, reflecting the sacrifices made by American and Allied troops during the conflict.

African American Civil War Memorial. NPS photo.

African American Civil War Memorial. NPS photo.

African American Civil War Memorial

The only national memorial commemorating the service of more than 200,000 African American troops and their officers, the African American Civil War Memorial includes a ten foot statue, called the Spirit of Freedom, sculpted by Ed Hamilton and features uniformed Black soldiers and a sailor. The names of those African Americans who fought during the Civil War are etched on the Wall of Honor.

Arlington National Cemetery

Beginning as the plantation and home of George Washington’s step-grandson, the estate was sold to the federal government in 1864. Military fortifications were built, and 200 acres were set aside for use as a national cemetery. The first burials took place in May of 1864. The Freedman’s Village was established at Arlington in 1863 for those former slaves who migrated to the Washington DC area, and provided food, shelter, education and employment training. Over 3,800 African Americans from the Freedman’s Village are buried in Section 27. Visitors can witness the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a somber and moving tribute to those who died in military conflicts and whose remains were never identified. Two presidents, William Howard Taft and John F. Kennedy, are buried at Arlington National Cemetery, along with many other notable statesmen and military leaders including 12 Supreme Court Justices and 19 astronauts. Also at Arlington, visitors can tour the original Arlington House, the mansion built by George Washington Parke Custis, later the home of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

The Women in Military Service for America Memorial. Department of Defense photo.

The Women in Military Service for America Memorial. Department of Defense photo.

Women in Military Service for America Memorial

Located at the ceremonial entrance of Arlington National Cemetery known as the Arlington Hemicycle, the Women in Military Service for America Memorial was dedicated in 1997, and was designed by Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi. This memorial honors the service of over 2 million women to the United States Armed Forces in various roles since the Revolutionary War.

The United States Armed Forces honor the men and women who served in the respective branches of the U.S. military with the following memorials: NOTE: There is no major memorial which specifically honors the men and women of the United States Army in Washington DC, but there is a number of smaller memorials which pay homage to specific divisions of the Army. A National Army Museum will be built in Fort Belvoir, Virginia, which will include a park with a memorial garden and parade ground.

United States Marine Corps Memorial

United States Marine Corps Memorial

United States Marine Corps Memorial (also known as the Iwo Jima Memorial)

Located outside the walls of Arlington National Cemetery, the Marine Corps Memorial is situated next to the Netherlands Carillon in Arlington, Virginia. The design of the massive sculpture by Felix de Weldon was based on the Pulitzer Prize winning photo Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima, taken during the Battle of Iwo Jima by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal. Constructed of bronze and granite, the memorial was dedicated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on November 10, 1954, the 179th anniversary of the U.S. Marine Corps. Thirty-two foot high figures are shown raising a 60-foot bronze flagpole. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy issued a proclamation that a Flag of the United States should fly from the memorial 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

United States Navy Memorial

Dedicated in 1987, the memorial pays tribute to the sailors of the United States Navy. The Naval Heritage Center serves as a place to learn about the history and heritage of the men and women of the sea services. The Lone Sailor statue, sculpted by Stanley Bleifeld, is a tribute to all the personnel of the sea services. The Memorial is located on Pennsylvania Avenue NW between 7th Street Northwest and 9th Street Northwest, adjacent to the National Archives.

United States Navy Memorial, by Flikr User TShein

United States Navy Memorial, by Flikr User TShein

United States Air Force Memorial

Located in Arlington, Virginia, on the grounds of Fort Myer near The Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery, the memorial honors the service of the personnel of the United States Air Force. The last project of noted American architect James Ingo Freed, the Air Force Memorial consists of three steel memorial spires, which resemble the ‘bomb burst’ maneuver. Only three of the four contrails are depicted, at 120 degrees from each other, as the absent fourth suggests the ‘missing man formation’ traditionally used at Air Force funeral fly-overs.

US Coast Guard Memorial, by Crystal Borde

US Coast Guard Memorial, by Crystal Borde

United States Coast Guard Memorial

One of the oldest war memorials, the Coast Guard Memorial was dedicated in 1928, and is located in Arlington National Cemetery. It honors those lost on the cutters Seneca and Tampa in 1918, as well as all USCG personnel who lost their lives during World War I. In the monument’s rock foundation and pyramid design, architect George Howe and sculptor Gaston Lachaise captured the spirit of the Coast Guard’s legendary steadfastness. A bronze seagull, poised with its wings uplifted, further symbolizes the tireless vigil that the U.S. Coast Guard maintains over the nation’s maritime territory.


Explore Latino Heritage by Visiting America’s National Parks

Did you know? There are more than 20 national park sites which interpret Latino heritage, from the earliest Spanish explorations to the accomplishments of modern figures such as César Chávez. Here is a small sampling of some of these sites:

Cabrillo National Monument

In search of the seven wealthy cities of Cibola and hoping to find the mythical Strait of Anian, a passageway from the North Pacific to the North Atlantic, explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo instead was the first European to discover the west coast of the United States when he landed in 1542 in the harbor of San Diego Bay. Today, Cabrillo National Monument commemorates Cabrillo’s voyage and the cultural interactions that occurred between American Indians and the Spanish and Portuguese explorers. Visitors can also visit the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, learn about how the military used the site, and explore nature.

Reenactors fire cannons at Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, ®Daniel Schwen

Reenactors fire cannons at Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, ®Daniel Schwen

Castillo de San Marcos National Monument

Castillo de San Marcos stands today as a monument to the Spanish empire’s 300-year occupation of Florida and to the interaction and clashes of cultural groups that built the unified nation that is the United States today. Constructed to protect Spain’s settlement in St. Augustine from pirate raids, hostile American Indian tribes, and neighboring imperial powers, the fortification is a symbol of the cultural and imperial struggles that shaped early North America. Never captured in battle, Castillo de San Marcos is both architecturally impressive as the oldest surviving masonry fortress in the United States and culturally significant because its stone walls are a testament to the endurance of this nation’s Latino heritage and to the other cultural groups that have played a role in its story.

César E. Chávez National Monument

Established by President Barack Obama on October 8, 2012, the monument is located among the Tehachapi Mountains in Keene, California, about 27 miles southeast of Bakersfield. The property is known as Nuestra Señora Reina de la Paz (La Paz), which was designated as a National Historic Landmark along with the monument on October 8, 2012. The property was home to César Chávez from the early 1970s until his death in 1993 and includes his gravesite and the headquarters of the United Farm Workers.

Chamizal National Memorial

In between the Texas-Mexican border stands a memorial where the American and Mexican flags fly together as a symbol of the historic treaty that ended a century-long dispute between the United States and Mexico. A testament to what two nations can accomplish when they work together to understand their differences and find common ground, Chamizal National Memorial commemorates the milestone in both nations’ diplomatic relations and its influence over the United States’ and Mexico’s shared heritage and border culture.

Exhibit at DeSoto National Memorial

Exhibit at DeSoto National Memorial

De Soto National Memorial

Hernando de Soto is famous in Latin American history as the Spanish conquistador who joined Francisco Pizarro in the invasion of the Inca Empire, but he is also a critical player in American history as the first European to discover the Mississippi River. Located on Shaw’s Point, which is the general area historians believe was the landing place of De Soto’s 1539 expedition, De Soto National Memorial commemorates de Soto’s landing in Florida and his northwestward expedition into North America. De Soto National Memorial is also an archeological site with artifacts and trails left behind by American Indians who guided de Soto’s expedition through Florida to the Mississippi.

Dry Tortugas National Park

Although Key West, Florida may be the southernmost point in the continental United States, the story of America’s rich cultural heritage expands beyond the zero mile marker of US-1. Located almost 70 miles off Key West is a cluster of seven coral reef islands that explorer Ponce de León discovered in 1513. Upon seeing the abundant population of sea turtles he named the islands Las Tortugas (The Turtles), but when explorers and merchants learned that the islands lacked fresh drinking water they soon changed the name to Dry Tortugas. Despite their name, the cluster of islands at Dry Tortugas National Park–which includes Garden, Loggerhead, Bush, Long, East, Hospital, and Middle Keys–is the site of events that have played an important role in American cultural and maritime history and a reminder of the seminal role the Spanish have played that history.

Inscription at El Morro National Monument. "On the 25th of the month of June, of this year of 1709, passed by here on the way to Zuni," Ramon Garcia Jurado.

Inscription at El Morro National Monument. “On the 25th of the month of June, of this year of 1709, passed by here on the way to Zuni,” Ramon Garcia Jurado.

El Morro National Monument

At El Morro National Monument, over 2,000 carvings at the base of a sandstone promontory record the presence of ancient peoples and later travelers who transformed El Morro into a well-preserved historic document. Each pre-Columbian petroglyph and later signature, date, and message inscribed at El Morro has a unique and significant story to tell about the peoples of different cultures who were there. Until the turn of the 20th century people left their mark at the base of this monument, including the Zuñi Indians whose ancestral ruins stand at the top of this historic headland, the Spanish, and Americans. Today, El Morro National Monument preserves the ruins and petroglyphs of the Ancestral Puebloans and the inscriptions of the Spanish and Americans who took inspiration from the ancestral Zuñi scribes. Archeological investigations of Spanish exploration and Latino heritage connections to the region are ongoing, and contribute to our understanding of El Morro’s long cultural and historical significance.

Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail

Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail traces the route followed in 1775-1776 by Spanish commander Juan Bautista de Anza II, who led almost 300 colonists on an expedition from Mexico to found a presidio and mission near San Francisco Bay. The trail, which is over 1200 miles long and today can be traveled via an auto tour, commemorates, preserves, and invites visitors to explore elements of the Spanish colonization plan for its northern most territory. Visitors can experience key remains of Spanish colonization: the presidio or fort (military), the mission (religious), and the pueblo or town (civilian). Many of the sites along the trail are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Old Spanish National Historic Trail

After Mexico became independent from Spanish rule in 1821, trade flourished between the eastern part of the United States and the vast western territory. Networks of trails developed as explorers, traders and settlers attempted to find safe passage through the treacherous, dry, and scorching hot interior lands. The Old Spanish Trail developed during this period as westerners sought a way to connect the burgeoning trading post at Santa Fe to the riches of Los Angeles and southern California. First officially established in 1829, the main branch of the trail spanned over 2,700 miles, cutting through the southwestern corner of Colorado, moving north and west through Utah and finally turning south again toward Arizona and lower Nevada, with a terminus in Los Angeles, California.

Mission Concepcion, part of San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, ©Travis Witt

Mission Concepcion, part of San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, ©Travis Witt

San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

In the 16th century, Spanish missionaries and soldiers began moving north out of the Valley of Mexico to found missions and presidios. The Spanish Empire extended its claim in the New World to the land along the San Antonio River, the present day site of the City of San Antonio, converting American Indians to Christianity, acculturating them to the European lifestyle, and making them Spanish citizens. The San Antonio missions played a major role in all aspects of Spanish colonial frontier life as they related to religion, the military, culture, and agriculture. The Franciscans established the first mission in San Antonio, the San Antonio de Velaro Mission, also known as The Alamo, in 1718. A second mission, Mission San José, was constructed two years later a few miles downstream from Mission Velaro. About a decade later, three other missions, which had first been in East Texas, were relocated to San Antonio. The park includes four of the missions in San Antonio– Espada, Concepción, San José, and San Juan and parts of the irrigation systems that supported the missions the Spanish erected to help defend, settle, and expand the Spanish frontier into Texas.

San Juan National Historic Site

During the 16th century, recognizing the need to protect the Spanish treasure fleets on their voyages to and from the New World, the Spanish erected vast fortifications throughout their territories in the Caribbean Islands and the Gulf of Mexico. Designated a World Heritage Site, the Spanish system of fortifications in San Juan, Puerto Rico is the oldest European construction in territory of the United States and one of the oldest in the New World. These fortifications guarded the entrance to San Juan Bay, helped the Spanish maintain sovereignty over Puerto Rico, and protected Spanish commerce in the Caribbean basin. The forts and three miles of city wall are fine examples of military architecture reflecting the power and glory of the Spanish Empire and the beginning of European ascendancy in world affairs. San Juan National Historic Site preserves these massive fortifications and offers youth-focused programs on the Spanish and Latino history of the island forts at its Discovery Center.

To learn more about Latino heritage in the national parks and beyond, please visit the National Park Service’s Hispanic Heritage website for information, travel itineraries and more.

Commemorating the Civil War: A Learning Experience

While the vicious battles of the American Civil War resonated through the minds and hearts of those who lived them in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the impact of the war has seemingly faded in the consciousness of modern Americans. With the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War now in full swing, there’s a rich opportunity for Americans to understand the underlying causes of the war, the impact it had on our modern society, and to fully embrace the progress we have made as a nation.

For more than a few, the exact cause that sparked the Civil War can be hard to capture. Granted, slavery was a major factor, but the tensions between the North and South had been building for decades as a result of political, economic and social differences.

While the Northern states’ economy was largely centered on industry, the South’s economy was agriculturally based. After Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin in 1793, large scale production of cotton in the South became possible, increasing the demand for cheap labor, and causing the institution of slavery to become closely intertwined with the Southern economy. Slaves and indentured servants were put to work in the fields, tilling and harvesting crops, to meet the national and international demand for agricultural products such as cotton and tobacco.

Historical photo of Slaves in a cotton field, North Carolina. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

Historical photo of Slaves in a cotton field, North Carolina. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

Another factor was the concern for representation in Congress. By 1820, all but one president had come from Virginia, boosting Southern confidence that they would not become a minority in Washington. But as droves of immigrants poured into the Northern states with hopes of acquiring industrial jobs, Northern populations exploded and the number of representatives from Northern states surged.

When Missouri applied for statehood in 1820, the balance of power in Congress could have shifted dramatically, contingent upon whether Missouri was admitted to the Union as a free state or a slave state. The Compromise of 1820 (also known as the Missouri Compromise) was reached, which decreed that states north of the Mason-Dixon Line would be prohibited from embracing slavery, while states south of the line could choose to be a slave state or not. While the Compromise worked for a few decades, by 1846 Southern states seized the opportunity after the war with Mexico to snatch up large tracts of land below the Mason-Dixon Line with the hopes that those territories could become slave states, which would result in a shift in the balance of power in Congress.

As more states joined the Union, Southern hopes were not realized. Tariffs imposed by Congress on agricultural products and exports further strained relations between the North and South. The state of South Carolina prevailed upon President Andrew Jackson to address their concerns about several of these tariffs and their negative economic impact, to no avail.

South Carolina passed the Ordinance of Nullification in 1832, which stated that the Tariffs of 1828 and 1832 were unconstitutional and therefore null and void within the sovereign boundaries of the state. Vice President John C. Calhoun and President Jackson disagreed on the issue, and Calhoun resigned his position in order to run for the Senate where he could more effectively defend nullification.

As a response to South Carolina’s refusal to submit to federal tariffs, the Force Bill was passed by Congress in 1832 that authorized President Jackson to use any force necessary in order to collect federal tariffs. Eventually, conciliation was reached through the Compromise Tariff of 1833, introduced by Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun. The compromise reduced the tariff by one-tenth every two years, satisfying South Carolina and other Southern states. South Carolina repealed its Nullification Act shortly thereafter, but tensions continued to build.

Abolitionist John Brown, 1859

Abolitionist John Brown, 1859

In 1859, John Brown, heading a small group of individuals who meant to overthrow the institution of slavery by violent means, raided the U.S. arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. His intent was to incite a slave insurrection, and although he was suppressed by federal forces, Brown became a martyr in the eyes of the Abolitionist movement. Brown’s unsuccessful raid, along with the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, led Southern states to believe that they could never survive under an anti-slavery president. South Carolina led the Southern states in secession from the Union, followed by Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana and Texas.

Although each state’s secession was entirely separate and there was no original intent on creating a nation separate from the United States, it became abundantly clear that they would be stronger if they banded together. By February of 1861, delegates from the seceded states met in Montgomery, Alabama and formed the Confederate States of America. They drafted a constitution and elected Jefferson Davis as their president.

The first shots of the American Civil War rang out on April 12, 1861, when Confederate General P. T. Beauregard demanded the surrender of Fort Sumter by Union Major Robert Anderson. When he refused, the Confederates laid siege to Fort Sumter and took possession of the Fort on April 14, 1861. Four years of fighting took a heavy toll on both the North and the South. Thousands of engagements, from minor skirmishes up to full scale battles and campaigns, took place across 23 states, from Southern Pennsylvania to Florida. The estimated loss of life due to combat injuries, disease and starvation was 620,000, and some estimate the total number of casualties to be significantly higher. The Civil War officially ended on May 9, 1865, a month after President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination and General Robert E. Lee’s surrender to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse. The last engagement of the Civil War occurred at Palmito Ranch, Texas on May 12, 1865.

2009 National Park Service Employee & Alumni Ass. Calendar

Civil War Sesquicentennial Logo, ® Eastern National

During the commemoration of the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, take the opportunity to visit a Civil War park. You can also visit the National Park Service’s Civil War website by clicking here, where you can view a timeline of the war and learn more about the battles, soldiers and life during the war. Many parks will be commemorating their respective battles with a multitude of events, including living history demonstrations, reenactments and children’s programs.

Here is a list of some parks that are commemorating battles this year:

Stones River National Battlefield

Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County Battlefields National Military Park

Vicksburg National Military Park

Gettysburg National Military Park

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park

Fort Sumter National Memorial

Songs for Junior Rangers: An Interview with Ranger Jeff Wolin

Have you heard about the new award-winning Songs for Junior Rangers CD? Written by Ranger Jeff Wolin of Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, this collection of kid-friendly songs was released recently by the National Park Service, and will have kids singing, dancing, and laughing as they learn fun facts about history and nature. The CD was recently awarded the Parents’ Choice Gold Award by the Parents’ Choice Foundation.

The songs cover a variety of subjects, including elk in “Wapiti Hoppity,” caving in “Spelunka Funka,” glaciers in “Frozen Bulldozin’,” and Mount Rushmore in “Four Presidents.” Musical elements include hip hop, reggae, blues, jazz, rock, zydeco, funk, and even polka. The CD was made possible through a grant from the National Park Foundation and is distributed and marketed by Eastern National. Scroll to the end of this article for some song samples from Eastern National’s YouTube page.

The 20-song CD includes a poster map with a special Junior Ranger game, and a booklet with the lyrics to each song, so kids can sing along. Proceeds from the sales of Songs for Junior Rangers support educational and interpretive programs in national parks.

Cover of the Songs for Junior Rangers CD

Cover of the Songs for Junior Rangers CD

Along with Ranger Jeff Wolin, Rangers Matt Hampsey and Bruce Barnes from New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park appear on the album, as well as many talented New Orleans musicians. Navajo singer/songwriter Krishel Augustine and the Youth Ambassador Program from New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park are featured on the CD, in addition to celebrity guests such as the A Capella group Committed, Grammy Award-nominated children’s group Trout Fishing in America, and PBS personality Aaron Nigel Smith. The CD has already won several prestigious awards, including the National Park Service’s Freeman Tilden Award and a top honor from DadNabbit, a popular children’s music blogger. Songs for Junior Rangers also recently won the Parents’ Choice Gold Award®.

“These witty songs are a great way for children to discover the wonders of national parks,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “The official motto of the Junior Ranger Program is ‘Explore, Learn, and Protect’ national parks and I think this music will certainly inspire children to do just that.”

We recently interviewed Ranger Jeff Wolin to learn more about his music and how the Songs for Junior Rangers CD came to fruition.

Hi Jeff, and thanks for talking with us today.  We love the new Songs for Junior Rangers CD!

Thanks! We are all really excited about it too.


Where are you from originally? Which college did you attend?

I was born and raised in Elmhurst, Illinois a suburb of Chicago. I went to the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana and studied Geography.


What inspired you to become a park ranger? How long have you been with the National Park Service? What is your favorite part of the job?

I did an internship through an organization called the Student Conservation Association at Isle Royale National Park. After a summer living on an island in Lake Superior and hanging out with lots of moose I had no doubt that I would be a Park Ranger for the rest of my career.  I’ve been a Park Ranger for 18 years. It’s really hard to pick one “favorite” part of the job. I LOVE my job. All I can do is give you a list of favorite things:  working in beautiful and historic places, the sense of mission to protect the beautiful and historic places, that passionate and fun people that I work with, and the amazing people I meet in the visitor center and out on the trails, and finally being able to tell the stories of these powerful places.


How long have you been at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument? Which other parks have you worked? Which park was your favorite and why?

I have been at Florissant Fossil Beds for 10 years. Again, a tough one to nail down…so here is another list for you.  Wind Cave because it was my first park as a seasonal and I got married there! The Everglades because it was so ALIVE, Canyonlands because of the magic landscape, and Florissant because of the fun and creative things we are doing.


How long have you been a musician? Which instruments do you play and how did you get started playing?

My mom would tell you that I began my musical career singing in the shower when I was little. I started playing guitar when I was in college but not seriously. I began writing children’s music in 2002 with my guitar teacher and friend and we made a science album called, “In Your Backyard.” The National Park music started in 2009.  I still continue to take guitar and vocal lessons. I’m still learning. I feel like I’m barely a musician. I mostly play guitar, but I’m learning blues harmonica.


Ranger Jeff Wolin entertains park visitors.

Ranger Jeff Wolin entertains park visitors.

How did you go about initiating the Songs for Junior Rangers CD? Did it start with one song?

Yes, in fact, Songs for Junior Rangers started with just one song.  I wrote Explore, Learn, and Protect for my son who was working on his Junior Ranger book one day in our living room.  The Washington Office supported the recording of the song and it was put on WebRangers. Then we decided to have a Junior Ranger Concert on the Mall and I wrote 6 more songs to have a set.  The floodgates opened and songs kept coming. At some point, I proposed the album idea to Julia Washburn (Associate Director of Interpretation and Education, NPS) and she liked the idea. She helped connect me to Eastern National and the National Park Foundation. At about the same time, I met Ranger Matt Hampsey from New Orleans Jazz. He said to me, “We can produce your album, that’s what we do at JAZZ!!!”  The partnership formed and it was awesome!


What was it like to collaborate with other rangers and musicians?

It is probably one of the most fun things I have ever done in my life. It was also a great honor to be amongst such great musicians. I really have to thank Ranger Matt Hampsey again and again because he produced the album and helped take the songs I wrote to amazing levels.  All of the rangers at New Orleans Jazz are amazing. There were so many guests and contributors, there is hardly enough time to thank them all. I’m a real extrovert and people person so I loved making millions of phone calls and making connections all over the country.


How does it feel to hear Grammy Award winning artists performing your songs? Again, it was a great honor to have amazing guest musicians on the album. Trout Fishing in America is a four- time Grammy nominated children’s group, Aaron Nigel Smith is an award winning musician and PBS personality, Committed won NBC’s Sing – Off and an NAACP nomination, and Johnette Downing is another award winning children’s musician.  As far as Grammy winners, I believe that a couple of our engineers on the album had been on Grammy Award winning albums. Everyone involved in the production of this album is hoping that we win the Grammy for Best Children’s Album in 2013.


Which song on the CD is your favorite and why?

Yet another tough question to answer. It really changes on what mood I’m in I guess. If I absolutely had to pick one…it would probably be Turtle Up Turtle Down. I’ve been a lifelong Parrothead (Jimmy Buffett fan) and that was my attempt at a Jimmy Buffett style song….for kids.


How do you think the Songs for Junior Rangers CD encourages kids to appreciate national parks and lead a healthy lifestyle?

Music is powerful. It has the ability to connect us intellectual and emotionally to concepts.  And it does so on many levels.  Songs can lift us up, inspire us to run and workout, and or make us think and reflect.  I’m hoping that families will listen to the songs, enjoy them, dance to them, wonder about them, and then decide to go visit a park and get outside.


How do kids react when you perform for them?

I try to keep my performances as interactive as possible and get kids and families moving. So, I guess I would answer that question by saying that kids react to the performances by: doing the limbo, acting like a bison, singing, laughing, pretending they are in a cave, dancing in a parade, etc.


Ranger Jeff Wolin, NPS Director Jon Jarvis and former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar get kids moving to the sounds of Songs for Junior Rangers.

Ranger Jeff Wolin, NPS Director Jon Jarvis and former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar get kids moving to the sounds of Songs for Junior Rangers.

Do you have any notable stories about any of the songs, the creation of the CD or performing the songs that you would like to share?

It has been three years of unbridled creativity and joy.  A part of my heart and soul are in that album somewhere.  During the process, I met some amazingly inspiring people. I fell in love with New Orleans. I believe I have become a better musician and songwriter.


The CD has won several prestigious awards, including the NPS’s Freeman Tilden Award and most recently, the Parents’ Choice Gold Award®. How does that make you feel?

I feel honored and grateful!


Anything else you would like to share?

Enjoy, Enjoy, Enjoy – that’s what my grandmother used to say.


For more information about the Songs for Junior Rangers CD, please contact Ranger Jeff Wolin at (719) 748‐3253. To purchase the Songs for Junior Rangers CD, click here or call 877-NAT-PARK. To download a digital copy of the CD, click here for Amazon, or here for iTunes. For wholesale opportunities, click here.

Teachers Become the Students at National Parks

When one thinks of national parks, visions of natural scenery at places such as Mount Rushmore, Old Faithful at Yellowstone, and El Capitan at Yosemite come to mind. Perhaps the furthest thing from a person’s mind is a vision of a classroom; but the fact is that national parks and historic sites are a perfect environment for visitors of all ages to learn.

The national parks offer many educational interpretive programs, ranger–led tours, and exhibits pertaining to the primary themes of the park. There are also specialized programs available for children, including the Junior Ranger Program, in which kids complete a workbook filled with educational games, puzzles and activities. Upon completion, they receive a ‘Junior Ranger Badge’ and are dubbed an honorary park ranger. Programs like this engage kids and motivate them to learn more about the site they are visiting.

The Junior Ranger Program is just one way that students can learn about national parks. Eastern National photo.

The Junior Ranger Program is just one way that students can learn about national parks. Eastern National photo.

But how do we engage kids to learn about the national parks inside the classroom?

Curriculum requirements vary from state to state, but most children are taught about the national parks in fifth and sixth grades. The National Park Service (NPS) has free curriculum resources available for teachers on its website, and these valuable tools can easily be downloaded and implemented to enhance teachers’ lesson plans. Field trip planning resources are available for teachers planning a class visit to a park.

At the National Education Association trade show, we asked an elementary school teacher from central Wisconsin how she teaches her students about the parks. She responded that she asks her kids to pick a park, and write a report about it.

“Would you be inclined to take the kids on a field trip to a park?” we asked.

“I would love that,” she replied. “It’s just that there are no national parks located near us that we could visit.”

Other challenges that teachers face with visiting national parks for class field trips involve economics. According to an elementary school teacher from Arkansas, field trips are a thing of the past in her school district.

“The district just does not have the resources to cover liability insurance or transportation, nor do we have enough staff available to accompany the students,” she said.

Travelling Trunk and Guest Speaker Programs

This traveling trunk includes eight "explorations" that combine science with art and music. NPS Photo

This traveling trunk includes eight “explorations” that combine science with art and music. NPS Photo

Although some students might not have the opportunity to visit a park via a field trip, the NPS can “bring the park to the classroom,” by way of several programs.  One of these is through a virtual field trip, where students can learn about parks through an internet-based program and through audio and video conferencing technology. The NPS will also loan materials to schools, such as videos and other multimedia, depending on geographical areas and availability.

The “Travelling Trunk” and “Guest Speaker” programs bring a park ranger and assorted learning materials to a school for a more hands-on experience. These programs are ideal for schools that do not permit field trips, and they literally bring the park into the classroom. They also gives students the opportunity to interact with a park ranger, just as they would if they were visiting a park.

 Professional Development Programs

According to the NPS website, more than 70 parks offer professional development programs for teachers, which range from simple workshops (accredited and eligible for college credits), to institutes and field schools, which can last as long as 30 days. Many of these field schools are a cooperative effort between nonprofit groups, universities, and the NPS, and have programs available not just for teachers, but also for senior citizens and kids.

The Tsongas Industrial History Center, in cooperation with the University of Massachusetts and Lowell National Historical Park, offers teachers and schools a resource for historical content, interdisciplinary teaching approaches for history, science, language arts, mathematics, recertification points, and for curriculum planning. All workshops are participatory and provide teachers with useful teaching materials and activities.

The Independence Park Institute (IPI), the educational branch of Independence National Historical Park, is a partnership between the NPS, Eastern National and the William Penn Foundation.

“The Professional Development Programs of the Independence Park Institute are designed to give educators content knowledge and to help them apply that knowledge in the classroom.  We address different learning styles, teaching across the curriculum, and hands-on active learning using the resources of Independence NHP.  We stress the use of primary sources, objects, and place-based education,” according to Jeffrey Collins, Education Program Manager at the IPI.

A wide range of professional development programs are available for teachers at the IPI, which help teachers to plan field trips and develop curriculum. For example, a special workshop is being offered to teachers this July in partnership with Valley Forge National Historical Park, which will explore how the economic, social and political foundations of American history can spark the approach to teaching social studies.

Teachers participate in a SERC workshop at Acadia National Park

Teachers participate in a SERC workshop at Acadia National Park

At Acadia National Park, the Schoodic Education and Research Center (SERC) provides Advanced Placement summer institutes in biology, environmental science, statistics, chemistry, world history, and art. The park provides a unique setting for intense work with other teachers and institute instructors, and there are accommodations for participating teachers on the SERC campus at Schoodic Point, surrounded by the pristine landscape of Acadia.

Teacher-Ranger-Teacher Program

Another tremendous opportunity for teachers to enrich their national parks curriculum is through the NPS’s “Teacher-Ranger-Teacher” program, where teachers become park rangers for the summer and interact with park visitors. This program has proven to be enormously successful for teachers and parks alike, where the experience of working at a park enhances a teacher’s knowledge, and the park benefits from the experience of a teacher.

Saratoga National Historical Park participated in the Teacher-Ranger-Teacher program last summer, and brought in Joe Crocetta, an eighth grade social studies teacher from the Catskill Central School District, an underprivileged school district in Greene County, New York. His contributions have had lasting results on the park.

“Joe assisted Saratoga NHP’s interpretive division with testing a daylong immersion program, where middle school students spend 24 hours experiencing life in the 18th century, as soldiers of the Continental Army. He also assisted interpreters in developing pre-visit and post-visit activities for future student visitors,” commented Bill Valosin, park ranger at Saratoga NHP. “Joe will bring the park to his students during National Park Week, where he will wear his NPS uniform in class, and encourage his students to learn more about the many opportunities in national parks for learning, recreation, and even careers.”

Joe Crocetta’s experiences working at Saratoga NHP have had an equally lasting impact on him.  “The Teacher-Ranger-Teacher program has provided me with a wealth of information to share with my students,” he said. In May of 2012, his class had the opportunity to participate in the new immersion program. “The rangers’ commitment to the program has made it a great success and an experience that students will never forget.”

Learn more about professional development and educational opportunities at: http://www.nps.gov/learn/