Guest Post: Why We Love America’s National Parks

PREFACE: Don and Shelly Hafner (of http://59nationalparks.com/) have set out on an epic journey- one that many people only dream of; To visit all 59 national parks within 59 weeks. We were so inspired by their quest, we asked them to write a guest post about why they love the parks and what inspires them when they visit a park. Here is their story:

Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park

Many people and organizations have asked us why we love the National Parks.  It turns out that we had never addressed this question in writing, so we committed to writing about it as Eastern National’s guest.  Readers know that we do love the Parks to undertake what we have.  The reasons we are doing this are complex and (we think) compelling.

Our reasons for planning our 59 National Parks were ultimately fueled by our love as husband and wife.  We found so much common ground and enjoyment together visiting the National Parks.  There were so many things that we enjoyed doing together at the Parks, such as hiking, photographing and learning new things.  When we first met, we spent many evenings in Rocky Mountain National Park picnicking and enjoying the wild life.  Ultimately our love of the Parks is personal.

 These are the characteristics of the National Parks that we want to call attention to and that we personally love and value:

 Freedom

We believe that America’s National Parks are manifestations of the freedoms we enjoy as Americans.  Take, for example, our freedom to travel to them–it is a birthright all Americans enjoy.  History teaches us that special places were often reserved for the elite of society.  That is not true in America.  Our National Parks are just that–ours.  Perhaps that is why there was so much unhappiness last year when our government enforced a shutdown of the Parks.  In addition, we are free to travel to them.  We enjoy the freedom to travel in the United States which is not a universal right throughout the world.

Photography

Devils Tower National Monument

Devils Tower National Monument

Do your family and friends humor you when you show them pictures of your children or grandchildren?  How about pictures of your dogs?  Are they just being nice?  Perhaps.  Show them a picture of Half Dome, Devils Tower or Old Faithful and they are involved, perhaps enchanted about the idea of visiting the spot.  We are drawn to sharing the experience of National Park visitation through photography with others as a result.

The National Parks offer opportunities to practice so many different kinds of photography in one place that few other venues offer.  In one day at Yellowstone National Park it is possible to photograph Old Faithful, trout fishing in the Lamar River, roaming bison, and goofy family pictures around the evening campfire.  As much as we enjoy where we live, we cannot accomplish that at home.  In addition, National Parks provide for photographic diversity.  We can take photos of sweeping landscapes, wildlife, seascapes, and the power of nature in action.  The National Parks are also great places to hone and improve our abilities with Macro photography. The great thing is, anybody else can too.

 History

The Ken Burns film The National Parks: America’s Best Idea brilliantly and beautifully presented how the fabric and history of America was influenced by the National Park movement.  We value all 401 of the National Park units because they tell the story of our country.  The movement to preserve special places didn’t start in 1872 when President Grant signed the law that made the area a public park.  His act was in fact a realization of a dream and a movement shared by the American people.  As an aside, it is worthy to note that the area we know as Hot Springs National Park was  set aside as a “public reservation” in 1832.  Our National areas are rich with history.  Many, such as George Washington Carver National Monument and the USS Arizona Memorial are primarily devoted to American history.  We recommend that our readers never skip the Visitor’s Center or drive by a sign that beckons you to a Park Service site.  They are always worth the stop.

 Children

In our experience, the National Parks are great places for families with children.  We have never heard someone to tell a child to be quiet at a National Park!  Our boys still talk about our trip to Arches and Yellowstone which was about twenty years ago.  We notice well-behaved children learning about and showing respect for nature when we visit the National Parks.  The Parks provide activities for children that they may not have at home such as snorkeling at the Virgin Islands National Park or watching a lava flow at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.  Kids are always captivated by the wildlife.

Buffalo Herd

Buffalo Herd

We notice that kids are not preoccupied as much with social media when we see them at a Park.  Expect a few complaints about the number of “bars” they have though.  The National Parks have programs for those children who want a social media experience and, of course, there are lots of apps for the parks.  The Park Service has a Junior Ranger program at every site which kids enjoy.  Eastern National administers the Passport To Your National Parks® program, which kids are crazy about- We are too.

 Experiences

The National Parks offer something for everyone!  For visitors who just want to park and look, it’s not only okay—it’s encouraged.  No one is second guessed or judged for their actions.  From that jumping off point there is so much to see and do at our National Parks.  At the Parks it is possible to go fishing, rock climbing and snow shoeing in the same day.  Visitors can go horseback riding, birding (try it—it’s harder than you think), or just sit in quiet reflection.  We find that we spend much of our time at National Parks in quiet reflection.  There is just something about being awestruck while being at peace at the same time.

So, why do we love the National Parks?  We are blessed that the Parks have helped us to come closer together and to increase our love for each other.  We can think of nothing better.

-Don & Shelly Hafner

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Pondering the Presidents on President’s Day

Since George Washington was elected president in 1789, there have been 43 presidents of the United States. While each president is vastly different from each other in their personalities, political beliefs, and educational and socioeconomic backgrounds, they all have one thing in common: their service to the citizens of the United States.

George Washington’s Birthday, designated by Congress in 1880, was the first federal holiday to honor an American citizen, and occurs on the third Monday in February. The holiday became widely known as President’s Day in the 1980’s to include Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, which falls on February 12th.

In the 1950’s, a movement headed by Harold Stonebridge Fischer, Executive Director of the President’s Day National Committee, intended to honor the Office of the Presidency, not just the birthdays of our first and 16th presidents. A proposal included in the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968, sought to change the name of the holiday from Washington’s Birthday to President’s Day, but failed in committee, thus maintaining the official name of the holiday as Washington’s Birthday.

Presidents are honored individually by some states, such as Massachusetts, which commemorates the lives of native Presidents John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Calvin Coolidge and John F. Kennedy on May 29th each year. In George Washington’s home state of Virginia, President’s Day is known simply as “George Washington Day”.

Visiting America’s national parks is a great way to learn about the lives and legacies of our presidents, especially since admission is free from 2/15-17. At least 32 National Park Service sites commemorate the lives of these men, plus an additional six parks which relate to the presidency through their wives or historic places in which momentous events occurred, such as the signing of the Declaration of Independence at Independence Hall.

It seems fitting that five sites are dedicated to Theodore Roosevelt, the father of the national park system.  An additional five parks honor Abraham Lincoln, from his birth home in Kentucky to Ford’s Theater in Washington DC, where he was assassinated.  The most recent park designated to honor a president is the William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace in Arkansas, which was taken over by the National Park Service in 2011.

There are other sites of significance to the presidency such as First Ladies National Historic Site and Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site, which honor the wives of our presidents, and the contributions they have made;  Mount Rushmore National Memorial, with its iconic, larger than life tribute to four of our greatest presidents, Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt;  And Independence National Historical Park and Federal Hall National Memorial, where visitors can retrace the steps of our founding fathers.

Those who visit the White House and President’s Park will gain a wealth of information about life in the White House. The White House Historical Association offers several exhibits such as White House Architecture, White House Pets, Working White House, and A Brief History of Presidential Inaugurations.

There are many items including books, toys and multimedia available on eParks.com, which document the lives of the presidents and the presidency itself. In honor of President’s Day, eParks.com is offering a 15% discount on all purchases through February 21, 2014 – Enter with Coupon Code LINCOLN15 at checkout. Here is a small sampling:

  256893 abraham lincoln living legacyAbraham Lincoln: A Living Legacy

Abraham Lincoln left an indelible mark on the nation he sacrificed his life to preserve. The National Park Service maintains several sites that figured largely in the life of Abraham Lincoln. An eParks exclusive, this full-color 160 page guide to three Abraham Lincoln National Park sites includes more than 160 photographs, maps and historic images that illustrate the story of one of the greatest men to ever lead this nation! This publication is printed in the USA. Softcover, $11.95.

NOTE: this publication was awarded the National Park Service Director’s Award for Excellence in Interpretive Media in 2010.

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2-20419cTruman

By David McCullough

In this riveting biography, acclaimed historian David McCullough not only captures the man – a more complex, informed, and determined man than ever before imagined – but also the turbulent times in which he rose, boldly, to meet unprecedented challenges. Truman’s story spans the raw world of the Missouri frontier, World War I, the powerful Pendergast machine of Kansas City, the legendary Whistle-Stop Campaign of 1948, and the decisions to drop the atomic bomb, confront Stalin at Potsdam, send troops to Korea, and fire General MacArthur. Drawing on a wide variety of materials, McCullough tells the deeply moving story of the seemingly ordinary “man from Missouri” who was perhaps the most courageous president in our history. $40.00

258777 hopes_dreams_obamaHopes and Dreams: The Story of Barack Obama

By Steve Dougherty

A lively overview of Barack Obama’s life, this timely book relates the story of his difficult childhood as the son of a Kansas-born mother and a black Kenyan who abandoned the family, through his election to president of the Harvard Law Review (the first black Law Review president ever); his early political career; his own family life with his wife, Michelle, and two daughters; his 2004 election to U.S. Senator; and his emergence as a symbol of hope for America. Including Obama’s own words and comments from both his critics and supporters, Hopes and Dreams is essential reading for people curious to know about the man who has been elected to our nation’s highest office. $12.95.

2-42235cEisenhower: A Soldier’s Life

By Carlo D’Este

With full access to his private papers and letters, the author traces Dwight David Eisenhower’s meteoric rise from hardscrapple poverty in rural Kansas to high command and eventually the presidency. He probes Eisnhower’s public persona and his private encounters with Churchill, FDR, George Patton and other legendary figures of the century. Based on five years of extensive research, this definitive biography ay change your view of this man who helped shpae world history. Author Carlo D’Este has been called one the finest military historians of his generation and his study on Eisenhower deemed “uncompromising, compassionate, brilliant.” Hardcover, 848 pages, $35.00

2-39239cJohn Adams

By David McCullough

In this powerful, epic biography, McCullough unfolds the adventurous life-journey of John Adams, the brilliant, fiercely independent, often irascible, always honest Yankee patriot – “the colossus of independence,” as Thomas Jefferson called him – who spared nothing in his zeal for the American Revolution; who rose to become the second President of the United States and saved the country from blundering into an unnecessary war; who was learned beyond all but a few and regarded by some as “out of his senses”; and whose marriage to the wise and valiant Abigail Adams is one of the moving love stories in American history. Hardcover, 751 pages, $38.00

247618 book_presidentsThe Book of the Presidents

By Vincent Wilson, Jr.

This is a reference and souvenir volume with biographies and gallery portraits of all the Presidents from George Washington to George W. Bush. 100 pages, $5.95.

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AUDIO/VIDEO

3-11195cAbraham Lincoln Sings On! (CD)

Performed by Tenor Douglas Jimerson. This collection of popular patriotic songs, includes a few of Abraham Lincoln’s favorites and is perfect for any music historian. Songs include: Oh! Susanna, The Bonnie Blue Flag, Gentle Annie, and many more! CD, $17.95.

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3-19312cFounding Brothers DVD

Based on Joseph Ellis’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, Founding Brothers examines six moments when the collisions and collusions of the Founding Fathers left an indelible imprint on the nation: the secret dinner that determined the site of the capital and America’s financial future; Benjamin Franklin’s call for an end to slavery; George Washington’s farewell address to the nation; John Adam’s term as president; Hamilton and Burr’s fatal duel, and the final reconciliation between Adams and Jefferson. Drawing on the words of the founders and incisive commentary from leading scholars, this is an elegant and engaging portrait of America’s origins. Features interactive menus and scene selection. Color, 2 discs, approx. 200 minutes plus extras. Closed-captioning option. $49.95

FOR KIDS

2-32302cYoung Teddy Roosevelt

By Cheryl Harness

This book briefly traces Teddy Roosevelt’s steady growth-from his boyhood in New York as a weak, asthmatic child to his sudden presidency-is glowingly pictured in this book. For young readers ages 9-12. Hardcover, 48 pages, $17.95.

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263007 gw_leads_wayGeorge Washington Leads the Way

By Bentley Boyd

This biography is divided into seven chapters headed by seven words describing Washington’s qualities of leadership.  These words are not exaggerations.  Learn how he used honesty, perseverance, responsibility, innovation, integrity, bravery, and fairness to become a founding father, help the United States win independence, and become the nation’s first president. Softcover, 24 pages, $6.95.

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TOYS/GAMES

417451 log_cabin_bank Log Cabin Bank

This log cabin bank is representative of the one room cabin 16th President Abraham Lincoln was born in. It’s located at Abraham Lincoln Birthplace NHP in Hodgenville, KY. This bank is made of real wood  and has a plastic plug on the bottom for removing money that has been saved. It measures about 6 1/4 inches tall. 7 inches wide, and 5 inches deep. $11.95

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351085 lincoln_memorial_puzzleRound Lincoln Memorial Puzzle

Henry Bacon was chosen  as the architect fo the Lincoln Memorial, which would be located in Washington, DC. Construction began in 1914, and was based on the Parthenon. Construction was completed in May, 1922, and the Lincoln Memorial was dedicated on Memorial Day, May 30, 1922. This 140-piece puzzle forms a 13-inch diameter circle and features an image of the statue of Lincoln located at the memorial. The cardboard backing folds into a box to hold the pieces. $14.95.