By Lowell & Kaye Christie, F47246
The United States National Park Service manages 384 areas, including national parks, memorials, historic sites, and reserves. With so many areas in the system, it’s no surprise that some remain relatively unknown. This column includes some of the less crowded and smaller areas in the park system. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth a visit. You’re certain to find many scenic and cultural resources, some comparable to those found in larger, more famous parks.
Most of the areas have ample parking for motorhomes. Several, however, have limited parking or are located in urban areas that make maneuvering a motorhome difficult. Motorhomers can gain access to these sites by towed car or public transportation when available. Sites that cannot accommodate motorhomes are indicated.
1. Arkansas Post National Memorial, Gillett, Arkansas.
In 1686, the French established this military post and settlement in the lower Mississippi River Valley. Thus began a long struggle between France, Spain, and England over the interior of the North American continent. As part of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, the post became part of the United States. By 1819 it was a thriving river port and the largest city in the region. Exhibits, a visitors center, an interpretive film, a historical walking tour, a wildlife sanctuary, and picnic areas are available. Location: Arkansas Post National Memorial is on State Route 169, approximately 9 miles south of Gillett and 17 miles northeast of Dumas via U.S. 165. Phone: (870) 548-2207.
2. Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site, Danville, California.
America’s most important playwright, Nobel Prize winner Eugene O’Neill, lived at Tao House in the hills above Danville from 1937 to 1944. There he wrote his final and most successful plays: The Iceman Cometh, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, and A Moon For the Misbegotten. The National Park Service has restored Tao House, its courtyard, and its orchards so visitors can better understand O’Neill’s work and his influence on American theater. Location: Eastern San Francisco Bay area. Call in advance to arrange transportation to the historic site from Danville, because access via private vehicle is not available. Tour reservations are required. Phone: (925) 838-0249.
3. Weir Farm National Historic Site, Wilton, Connecticut.
The summer home and workplace of American Impressionist painter J. Alden Weir (1852-1919) has been an arts center for more than 100 years. Weir’s summer home and studio, and many of the barns and outbuildings, have been preserved. Much of the landscape that served as subject matter for many of Weir’s paintings remains largely intact. Ranger-led tours of the studio buildings are available to walk-in visitors. The Weir Farm National Historic Site parking area cannot accommodate motorhomes. Location: Southwestern Connecticut. From U.S. 7 between Norwalk and Danbury, take State Route 102; turn left onto Old Branchville Road; turn left onto Nod Hill Road. Phone: (203) 834-1896.
4. Fort Caroline National Memorial, Jacksonville, Florida.
Some 200 French settlers, many of them Huguenots, established a colony here in 1564, but Spanish forces from nearby St. Augustine wiped it out the following year. Nothing remains of the original fort, but a near full-scale rendering of the fort, plus exhibits in the visitors center, provide information about the history of the French colony’s brief struggle for survival. Location: Approximately 14 miles east of downtown Jacksonville, via State Route 10 (Atlantic Boulevard). Phone: (904) 641-7155.
5. City Of Rocks National Reserve, Almo, Idaho.
“We encamped at the city of the rocks, a noted place from the granite rocks rising abruptly out of the ground,” wrote California Trail pioneer James Wilkins in 1849. “They are in a romantic valley clustered together, which gives them the appearance of a dismantled, rock-built city of the Stone Age.” Sounds like a good place to visit even if you aren’t one who delights in reading the signatures of pioneers who stopped by the rocks while following this portion of the California Trail. Some critics call the writing on the rock faces graffiti; others see it as history. The unit is managed jointly by the National Park Service and the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation. Location: Southern Idaho. From Interstate 84, follow State Route 77 south to Almo. Phone: (208) 824-5519.
6. Fort Scott National Historic Site, Fort Scott, Kansas.
Fort Scott witnessed a decade of rapid westward expansion in the 1840s, followed by the unrest that accompanied the Civil War. Today the site consists of 20 historic structures, parade grounds, and 5 acres of restored tallgrass prairie. The buildings’ notable architectural style “” French Colonial with Greek Revival elements “” has been preserved. The visitors center offers an audiovisual program and exhibits, guided tours, living history demonstrations, and interpretive programs. Location: Fort Scott is 90 miles south of Kansas City in downtown Fort Scott, which is where U.S 69 and U.S. 54 intersect. Phone: (620) 223-0310.
7. Clara Barton National Historic Site, Glen Echo, Maryland.
Clara Barton National Historic Site commemorates the life of Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross. The house in Glen Echo served as her home, as headquarters for the American Red Cross, and as a warehouse for disaster relief supplies. From there she began the American Red Cross relief efforts for victims of natural disasters and war. The site is open daily and shown by guided tour. Location: 5801 Oxford Road in Glen Echo, adjacent to Glen Echo Park. Phone: (301) 492-6245.
8. Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site, Brookline, Massachusetts.
Frederick Law Olmsted is credited with being the founder of American landscape architecture, as well as being the nation’s foremost park designer. Since Olmsted’s death in 1903, his sons and successors have expanded and perpetuated his design ideas and philosophy. Visitors tour the historic landscape as well as the century-old design office “” Fairsted “” virtually unchanged from Olmsted’s days. Within the office are nearly a million original design records, including those of the grounds surrounding the U.S. Capitol and White House; layouts of Great Smoky Mountain and Acadia national parks, among others; and plans for New York City’s Central Park. In their “spare time,” the Olmsteds were influential in the creation of the National Park Service. The historic site is located in a residential neighborhood and no motorhome parking is available. Location: Four miles from downtown Boston at Warren and Dudley streets in Brookline. Phone: (617) 566-1689.
9. Edison National Historic Site, West Orange, New Jersey.
For more than 40 years, Thomas Edison’s West Orange laboratories brought forth inventions we take for granted today “” the motion picture camera, vastly improved phonographs, sound recordings, and silent and sound movies. His library, papers, and models remain as testimony to his contributions to technology. Glenmont, Edison’s 29-room house, remains furnished as it was when as he lived there. Visitors tour the home and laboratory and see exhibits and old movies, as well as the world’s first movie studio. Location: Lakeside Avenue and Main Street in West Orange. Phone: (973) 736-0550.
10. Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site, Flat Rock, North Carolina.
Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and Abraham Lincoln biographer Carl Sandburg had already achieved literary fame by the time he moved to Connemara, his picturesque 250-acre farm. During his 22 years there, he continued to write, lecture, and publish more than one-third of his total works. Today’s visitor can tour the 1838 house, the dairy goat barn complex, rolling pastures, mountainside woods, walking/hiking trails, lakes, ponds, and gardens. Location: Southwestern North Carolina, 3 miles south of Hendersonville. Phone: (828) 693-4178.
11. William Howard Taft National Historic Site, Cincinnati, Ohio.
William Howard Taft was the only man to serve as both President of the United States and chief justice of the Supreme Court. His restored birthplace and boyhood home is open for tours, as is the adjacent Taft Education Center. You won’t want to miss the animatronic figure of Charlie Taft, William Howard’s son, telling stories about family members. This historic site is located in an urban setting and cannot accommodate motorhome parking. Location: 2038 Auburn Ave. in Cincinnati. Phone: (513) 684-3262.
12. Congaree Swamp National Monument, Hopkins, South Carolina.
The monument “” which is not a true swamp “” preserves as a wilderness the largest intact tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the United States. The old-growth forest includes some of the tallest trees in the East. This site is recognized as an International Biosphere Reserve, a National Natural Landmark, a Wilderness Area, and (our favorite) a “Globally Important Bird Area.” Visitors find a contact and first-aid station, fishing, hiking trails, canoeing, guided nature walking tours, and guided canoe tours. Location: 20 miles southeast of Columbia, South Carolina, off State Route 48. Signs lead to the park on Old Bluff Road. (803) 776-4396.
13. Jewel Cave National Monument, Custer, South Dakota.
With more than 127 miles surveyed, Jewel Cave is recognized as the third-longest cave in the world, and much of the vast area is yet to be explored. Cave tours provide opportunities for viewing a broad variety of formations, including stalactites, stalagmites, draperies, frostwork, flowstone, and many others. As you might expect, the cave is also a hibernating area for several species of bats. Location: Jewel Cave National Monument is 13 miles west of Custer, South Dakota, on U.S. 16. Phone: (605) 673-2288.