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Parks & Politics: Trying (so very hard) to keep politics out of the discussion.

 

I love our National Parks and am a strong supporter of keeping the beauty and sanctity of our most treasured natural spaces. I travel to the Parks, I research the Parks and I blog about the Parks. I have wanted my discussions and observations to be encouraging and support our National Park Service and perhaps encourage others to enjoy and appreciate our Parks.  Up to this point I have done that and will continue to do so, however in light of recent developments with the current federal administration I can no longer keep silent. I really don’t want my blog to be about politics, but if you discuss the National Park Service you can’t avoid talking about the federal government because after all, it is managed as a branch of the federal government. In 2016, the National Park Service celebrated their centennial: celebrating 100 years of the establishment and development of a world renowned system. A system that highlights the beauty of our Parks and assures the appreciation of such for generations to come.  Yet now, so many of these lands are being threatened by persons that want to exploit the land for monetary gain.  Sadly, it would be a gain that would not last and would forever destroy the beauty of the lands that were set aside for preservation.

It started as a shell game by a magician (Donald Trump) who graciously donated $78K of his own salary to the National Park Service.  On the surface this may seem as a good will gesture, but it pales in comparison to the amount of money he proposes cutting from the Department of the Interior, which operates the National Park Service and other agencies.  Money magazine reported that the President’s proposed budget would cut $1.5 billion from the Department of the Interior.  Of course it is not just money we are discussing, it’s also the irreparable harm that could befall our parks if some of the mind set of the current administration is allowed to proceed with “raping and pillaging” of our most breathtaking, sacred lands.

Let me give you just one consideration, just the tip of the iceberg, that I do consider “raping and pillaging” of one of our most beautiful National Parks: The Grand Canyon. The Trump administration is currently considering a review of the ban on uranium mining in the watershed of the Grand Canyon. The ban was originally put into place by President Barack Obama because of concerns of not only destroying the beauty of the canyon, but also the danger of polluting the Colorado River. I absolutely cringe at the idea of this and hope and pray that this will not come to fruition.

Bears Ears National Monument in Utah/ photo from PBS.org

I was prompted to write this by news that surfaced just Monday from the Trump administration.  Two federal national monuments in Utah were drastically reduced in size, making it reportedly the largest rollback of federal land protection in the nation’s history. Bear Ears National Monument was reduced by 85% and the Grand Staircase-Escalante was reduced to about half it’s size.   The current administration presents these changes as a need to put more of the land use to local and state controls, out of operation of federal control.  In theory that may sound like a good plan, but what types of land use could occur on unprotected lands?  More mining, more logging, more gas extraction?  Once land has been stripped of it’s beauty, it does not recuperate overnight. Is the Administration really taking into account what the local residents want?

Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir at Yosemite

President Trump may not even have the legal right to pursue revising the status of certain public lands that were established under the Antiquities Act.   Trump’s legal authority to make these changes is already being challenged with the filing of several law suits against these actions.  The Antiquities Act was signed into law in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt. It authorizes the President to protect landmarks, structures and objects of historic or scientific interest by designating them as National Monuments. Herein lies a problem with the verbiage that gets “tricky”. First of all the distinction between a National Park and a National Monument causes problems with the dos and don’t with land usage.  For example, some of the lands that are considered monuments, already have certain mining within the territory, whereas you would not see that happening in a National Park.  Second, Park preservation varies from President to President and what one may deem important, the other may choose to rescind.  IF there is a legal way around it. I don’t know how much of the Antiquities Act has to be adhered to, I just know that the Trump administration is really pushing the envelope on this.  He’s messing with it. I know that legislation can become outdated and frequently needs to be revised…but not this one.  I will bet you that Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir are rolling in their graves thinking of what is even being considered in our most beautiful parts of the country.

I don’t profess to be an expert and I don’t know all the ins and outs of pending legislation, but I want to have a voice. I don’t want to be “afraid” to speak up. I want to voice my thoughts on one of my true passions: the beauty and sanctity of one of America’s greatest treasure: Our National Parks. May we all continue to protect and preserve them. Put your traveling shoes on.  JES

Interstate Park: a shared View

View of the St. Croix- Wisconsin Interstate Park

Atop the glacial formed cliffs towering by the St. Croix river, are two beautiful parks: one on the Minnesota side and one on the Wisconsin side. They share the “Interstate” name and they share similar terrain, however they are operated independently by each state. For over 100 years, visitors have come to this area to view the rugged cliffs, unique glacial formations and the forested hills surrounding the scenic St. Croix River. In addition to the breathtaking scenery, the area is perfect for a number of recreational pursuits include hiking, camping, fishing and boating.

In 1895, the Minnesota Interstate Park was established to help preserve the scenic beauty and geologic wonders found in the area. Wisconsin followed suit in 1900 by establishing Interstate Park at the southern edge of St. Croix Falls, directly across from the Minnesota Park.  Wisconsin’s Interstate Park is the oldest established Park in the state.  When originally conceived in the early 1900’s , the Parks were run with a certain degree of reciprocity between the two states.  However, with changes in administration of the Parks, after 2003 the Parks became independent of each other and are operated by their respective states. Even though the administration is separate, the ideology and shared vision of protecting this unique and beautiful glacial land is reciprocal.

Old Man of the Dalles (photo by: thestcroixvalley.com)

Wisconsin Interstate Park is Wisconsin’s oldest state park and boasts incredible land forms and hiking trails with breathtaking view of the St. Croix River. Interesting geological formations in the park called “potholes” can be viewed in several locations throughout the park. Not the kind of potholes we usually think of that afflict the roadways for motorists, these potholes were formed when sand and rocks were trapped in glacial whirlpools and drilled deep potholes into solid rock. Another feature of the rock formations can be found by the cliffs rising from the riverbeds. Some of the cliffs rise up to 200 feet high above the river. One of the most unusual rock formation is the “Old Man of the Dalles”, with an uncanny look of an old man looking out over the St. Croix River. It makes one think of the man-made stone work of Mt. Rushmore, but it is truly amazing that this visage was totally crafted by natural forces.

Another interesting feature of this Wisconsin Park, is that it also has an affiliation with the National Park Service by virtue of the fact that this park is on the western edge of the Ice Age Trail.  The effects of the glacial period are readily seen across the state of Wisconsin and better preserved than almost any other area of the country. The Interstate Park Visitor newsletter reports: “In 1964, legislation was passed by Congress to preserve and protect this heritage of the Ice Age in Wisconsin. This legislation created the Ice Age National Scientific Reserve.  The Reserve consists of nine separate units located across the state from Lake Michigan on the east to the St. Croix River on the Wisconsin-Minnesota border on the west.”

The Ice Age Interpretive center, close to the entrance of the park, has informative displays on the effects of glacial activity and a 25 minute video entitled “Mammoths & Moraines”.  Additionally they have a book store and gift store in this same facility.  The staff there can help with any questions about the area and what your needs are when visiting the park. For example, which trails would be suited for my hiking ability? Some trails are much “trickier” and steep than others.  If canoeing or boating, there are boat launches available on the St. Croix River and Lake O’ the Dalles.  Campers can take their pick from 82 beautiful wooded sites. Camping is  available May 1- October 1.  The Interstate Park of Wisconsin encompasses 1,330 acres with an abundance of land to explore.

Taylors Falls Scenic Boat Tours

The Minnesota Interstate Park is smaller, at 293 acres, but also has an abundance of interesting terrain and activities. The views of the river provide different outlooks from the western side. When I was there, several brave souls were climbing the steep faces of the rocky cliffs. (With several safety harnesses, luckily….sorry, just not my cup of tea.) Another activity, only available on the Minnesota side of the river, are boat rides on the St. Croix on those old, quaint paddle boats.  I must clarify that the boat tours are not affiliated with Minnesota Interstate Park, they just happen to be right next to the park. Both the Park and the boat tours are in Taylors Falls and both on the riverfront. When you are hiking in the park, it is common to see several of these tour boats going up and down through the Dalles. You gotta love those huge paddle wheels churning up the water. (Cue: “Mississippi Queen…You know what I Mean….”) Boats have been touring up and down this river since 1906.  For more information on the Scenic Boat Tours, you can check out their website at: http://www.taylorsfallsboat.com

Exploring both of the parks can be very rewarding.  They share a border and also share the same vision of protecting a beautiful part of our Midwestern landscape.

Information on Wisconsin’s Interstate Park can be found at:http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/interstate/

Information on Minnesota’s Interstate Park can be found at: http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/interstate/

Put your traveling shoes on. JES

North to the Namekagon

Walkway to the riverfront: Namekagon River (near Visitor’s Center in Trego, WI.)

The Namekagon River (pronounced: Nam-uh-Kah-gun) , in addition to the St. Croix River, make up 255 miles of protected riverway as part of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. The National Park Service manages the riverway and Visitor Centers at both the St. Croix  and the Namekagon sites and both provide ample opportunities for discovering all the natural beauty in the area.

The St. Croix Visitors Center is open year round (see my post dated: July 11,2017), however the Namekagon River Visitor Center is only open Memorial Day through Labor Day.  Since my husband and I recently visited Namekagon Visitors Center, I guess we got there just in the nick of time, they will be closing for the season after the Labor Day holiday. It is worth the effort to go there: they have many interesting displays, educational materials and a short video about the history, geology and beauty of the rivers that are part of this conservation effort. Both the St.Croix and the Namekagon were among the first rivers protected by Congress under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 1968. The diverse and rich history of these rivers tell many stories of both human inhabitants utilizing the resources of the river and the abundant wildlife that call this area home.

Map showing both Namekagon and St. Croix rivers (National Park Service Map)

The Namekagon gets is name from the Ojibwe language meaning “river at the place abundant with sturgeons”. The Dakota (Sioux) and the Ojibwe (Chippewa) were the first inhabitants in this river region.  The resources of the river provided ample fishing and the harvesting of wild rice. The Namekagon River is a 101 mile tributary of the St. Croix.  It’s source is in northwestern Wisconsin in Bayfield County. It meanders southwest and joins the St. Croix River south of the city of Superior, WI. Here is a map detailing both rivers and the location of the visitors centers and boat launch sites. Opportunities abound not only for fishing, but kayaking and canoeing as well on these beautiful waterways that meander thru the northwoods.

The fascinating history of the area is also documented here at the visitors center.  The logging era started in the 1800’s by these rivers and had a profound impact on the geology and economy of this area. The rivers were used to float the logs downstream to the mills for processing.  During the peak of the logging industry, lumberjacks cut down 450 million board feet of lumber. Frequently there would be log jams on the river that were so dense that the loggers had to use dynamite to free the logs. Forests at the time seemed endless and were over harvested, so logging methods changed and the last log drive on the St. Croix was in 1914.

The beauty of the woods and the two rivers that run through them is wonderfully chronicled in the Namekagon Visitors Center. The Rangers there can provide historical and geological information on the area, as well as recreational information if you are planning an outing on the river. The center is easy to find: just off of Hwy 53 in Trego, 22 miles south of Hayward.

Put your traveling shoes on.  JES

National Parks Senior/Lifetime Pass to Increase

Important deadline coming up!! As of August 28, 2017 the price of a Senior pass to the National Parks is increasing from $10.00 to $80.00 for persons 62 years and older.  The lifetime pass is available to persons 62 (not 65, as some may think.) The additional funding will be used to maintain and protect the beauty of our National Parks and to improve the park visitors experience.  Even at $80.00 it seems like a fantastic deal, to open the doors to travel at all of America’s wonderful Parks and historical sites.  Nevertheless, if you can get access to that pass (if you are 62 or older) NOW is the time to purchase.

Another terrific perk about the Senior pass is that your traveling companions also gain entrance to the park on the pass. A wonderful chance to take your spouse, take your children or grandchildren! When my husband first got his pass, we took our college age sons to Yellowstone, Grand Tetons and Devil’s Tower. What a memorable trip that was! No entrance fees mean more souvenir shopping money! Yes, we still did our part to bolster the local economy and money into the Park’s gift store.

 

Senior Passes can be purchased at any federal recreation site, including national parks, that charges an entrance or standard amenity (day-use) fee. Proof of age and residency is required.  A list of which sites sell the senior pass can be found on the National Park Service site: http://www.nps.gov   In my own state of Wisconsin, there are 10 sites listed where you can purchase the pass, but all sites might not be very close driving distance. Additionally, passes can be purchased on-line, but an additional $10 fee is charged for processing.

So if you will be 62+ before August 28….better get your National Park pass to start working on that “bucket list”.

Put your traveling shoes on.  JES

Preserving a Legacy: St. Croix National Scenic Riverway

View of the St. Croix from one of the viewing platforms at the Visitor’s Center of the SCNCR.

Sometimes it is easy to make assumptions, frequently incorrect, based on common knowledge and not first hand experience.  It can be an eye-opening experience when you learn something new, that turns your previous assumption upside down. That happened to me recently with an updated geography lesson about the upper Midwest. Growing up in Iowa, the Mighty Mississippi, was the grand daddy of all rivers and forms the eastern Iowa border.  Sure,  I had heard of the St. Croix River, but just knew it was “up north” somewhere.  I didn’t realize that a large portion of the Wisconsin and Minnesota borders are defined by the St. Croix River, which joins the Mississippi further south, almost to the Iowa border in Prescott, Wisconsin.  So many “flatlanders” like myself, just make the assumption that it is mostly the Mississippi that carves out the pathways in the Midwest. Yes, this is true, but the St. Croix has an impressive presence north of the 45th degree latitude.

A visit to the National Park Service Visitor Center of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway is a great way to learn how the St. Croix and the Namekagon rivers have had an incredible influence on this area of the upper Midwest.  In addition to learning about the fascinating geologic and historical information of the area, one can also get information here on hiking, canoeing and fishing these beautiful waters. The rivers have provided commerce, recreation and also abundant resources to support a diversity of wildlife.  The rivers of the St.Croix and Namekagon together make up 252 miles of protected waterway in the St. Croix National Scenic Waterway.

NPS photo, St. Croix river (circa early 1900’s) Logging with Wannigan house

The geologic history of the area began millions of  years ago when the glaciers carved out the river valleys and rugged bluffs overlooking the flowing rivers.  The first human inhabitants of the rivers  were the Dakota (Sioux) and the Ojibwe (Chippewa) that found this area to have plentiful resources for an abundant life.  The next to explore this area were the French and later the English fur trappers. The logging industry in the area took the St. Croix river valley by storm and the pique of the logging industry was the 1890’s. Log jams in the river frequently occurred, not only hindering the progress of lumber to the mills, but also damaging the fragile ecosytems of the rivers.  The life of the lumberjacks was challenging on the river, to say the least, and many lost their lives in this profession. They built small shanties that floated in the river to help carry supplies and were sometimes used to sleep in as they were “steering” the lumber downstream. The shanty was called a Wannigan as shown is this photo. The last major log drive was in 1914.  It is interesting that in St. Croix Falls, WI.  and Taylors Falls, MN. the lumber industry and the rich heritage of the river  is still celebrated today with “Wannigan Days”.  Now that is neat! I learned that new tidbit of trivia when moving to this area….I bet not that many people know what a Wannigan is, well know you know.

500 gallon Freshwater aquarium

When at the Visitor’s Center, be sure to check out the 500 gallon freshwater aquarium. It is stocked with great examples of the kinds of fish that anglers in the area are fishing for. The displays are great in learning all about the wildlife and the plant life near the river. Be sure to take a few minutes (only about 20) to view the film about the rivers and how the National Park Service established protection of this waterway thru the 1968 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

Map of the Namekagon and St. Croix Rivers

The Visitor’s Center is also a great source of information for planning camping, canoeing and/or fishing trips.  They can provide maps, educational materials and answer any questions about the area. The St.Croix River Visitor Center is easily found at 401 N. Hamilton Street, St. Croix Falls, Wi. It is just off the main road (87), 2 blocks north of the St. Croix Overlook Deck.

Put your traveling shoes on. JES

A Tribute to a true lover of the Parks: Theodore Roosevelt.

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Theodore Roosevelt National Park– South entrance near Medora, N.D.

As  one drives through the rugged terrain of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, you appreciate the beauty of the rugged cliffs and eerie colors formed by the diversity of minerals found in this land. Land that has remained untouched by plows or backhoes for centuries, only modified by the wind, the sun and torrential rains. Included within the park are a diversity of landscapes and geological formations, such as the Petrified Forest and Painted Canyon.  The park consists of three separate units: the South unit (right off I-94), the North Unit and Elkhorn Ranch Unit.  Each portion of the park offers an abundance of  things to explore and opportunities for viewing wildlife.  Since the South unit is easily accessible (Exit #24 and #27 from I-94) near Medora, ND and also has two Visitor’s Center to help plan your adventure within the Park, it has a tendency to be the more frequently visited area of the Park.  The Visitor’s Center also has a really interesting museum about the man, the legends and some of the “naked truths” about this fascinating man who became our  26th President.  I was saddened to learn that Roosevelt lost both his mother and his wife on the same day: Valentines Day, 1884.  I can’t imagine the overwhelming grief.  He did seek solace in the lands that he so loved in the hills of North Dakota.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, located on the western side of North Dakota, is a more low-key National Park and does not boast huge mountains or erupting geysers, but nevertheless it is an amazing landscape that has been called “The Badlands of the North”.  Not only does it help to protect this unique area of land, it also pays homage to a man who played a huge role in the development of the National Park Service that we know today.quote-i-have-always-said-i-would-not-have-been-president-had-it-not-been-for-my-experience-theodore-roosevelt-105-74-46 It is fitting that North Dakota was chosen as the site for Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  This land truly inspired him and helped him grow and toughen his resolve, both physically and mentally. He first came to North Dakota in 1883 to “bag a buffalo” and later become involved in ranching.  Through a series of both bad luck and severe weather killing the majority of his livestock, he gave up the ranching life. However, the lessons he learned in the wilderness and with cattle ranching helped to strengthen his resolve and also helped to solidify his conservation ethic. He was quoted as saying: “I have always said I would not have been President had it not been for my experience in North Dakota.”

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Roosevelt and John Muir at Yosemite

Theodore Roosevelt was sometimes referred to as the “conservation President”.  He was responsible for establishing five National Parks and also created a system for the President to preserve lands and monuments by the creation of  The Antiquities Act of 1906. Roosevelt signed the act into law, which gives the President of the United States the authority to, by presidential proclamation,  create national monuments, protect public lands and to protect significant natural, cultural, or scientific features. Roosevelt’s first use of the Antiquities Act was to declare the unique feature of Devil’s Tower in Wyoming a National Monument. The Act has been used over a hundred times since its passage. Its use occasionally creates significant controversy, usually instigated by differences of opinion between Congress and the President.

Recently, President Obama used his Presidential power through The Antiquities Act to proclaim  87,000 acres in Maine as a National Monument in north-central Maine. The area has been christened as: the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.  I believe that you can’t help but be inspired and uplifted viewing this video and thinking of the preservation of this beautiful tract of land in Maine.

 

So here’s to those that help to preserve the beauty of our America and hopefully we can all get out there and  “Find your Park”.  For more information on the Find Your Park program, check out the National Park Service website at: https://www.nps.gov/index.htm

Put your traveling shoes on. JES

It REALLY needs to be on your “Bucket” list: Glacier National Park

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St. Mary Lake in Glacier National Park

During the centennial year for the National Park Service, they have been running a campaign called “Find Your Park” encouraging visitation to the many choices available in our national park system.  I feel it is hard to narrow your choice to just one favorite park, but nevertheless I have “Found my Park“: Glacier National Park in Montana.  The only thing I can see wrong with the park is for me it has become an obsession…I can hardly wait to return.  It was originally on my “Bucket List”, and I am so very happy I was able to visit the Park, but I really hope to return again someday.  I leave the park with a desire to return because it is so vast and with an abundance of adventures, that you really can’t experience Glacier all in one trip.

glacierwaterton-mapGlacier National Park is located in the northwestern corner of Montana, bordering Canada.  The Park was originally established in 1910 and encompasses over 1,500 square miles. The range of topography in the park, including mountains, crystal clear lakes, glacial feed streams and forested valleys,  provides not only a photographer’s dream but also numerous other recreational pursuits.  The park is home to 762 lakes and several waterfalls-both big and small. In addition to kayaking, canoeing and fishing, there are 151 maintained trails in Glacier for many different hiking experiences. The Park also supports a large population of both plant and animal life. Bears, both black bears and Grizzly, are among the mammals found here. An abundance of Big horn sheep and mountain goats are also found grazing on the highest peaks.

Another unique feature of Glacier National Park is it has been declared the world’s first International Peace Park. At the northern boundary of Glacier, the border into Canada connects with Waterton Lakes Park. The two parks together share over 1,800 square miles of breathtaking summits, glacial terrain and shimmering waterfalls.  I had hoped to see Waterton as well on my trip.  My husband and I both took our passports (yes, required) however we ran out of time.  Perhaps on my next trip. Also, the area is home to many Native American tribes and the Blackfeet Indian Reservation is on the east side of the Park.  There is much to learn about the history of the Blackfeet people in this area, that in itself warrants another blog post on the topic.

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Red Bus Tours

A very good place to start at Glacier, to get an overview of the entire park, is the iconic “Going to the Sun Road”.  The road bisects the park, traverses up and over mountains and crosses the Continental Divide.  It was a monumental task to complete and took 10 years build; the road opened in 1933. Personal vehicles are allowed on the road, but I recommend leaving the driving to the experts: the drivers that are familiar with all the sharp turns and heart stopping drop offs.  If I had to drive it myself I would have been “white-knuckling” it  the entire way and would have not been able to enjoy the views.  If you are a seasoned mountain driver, go for it…I’m from the Midwest: a true flat-lander when it comes to driving.  So my husband and I decided to take a “Red Bus Tour” and it was incredibly well worth it.  The Red Buses themselves are a staple in the Park and have a rich history. Since 1914 the Red Bus Tours have been operating in Glacier and providing for visitors  “unparalleled experiences touring through one of the most spectacular parks anywhere, and they have done it with the elegance and grace that has become synonymous with these unique vehicles.” I thought it was a nice touch that all the drivers wore a dress shirt, tie and a “motoring cap”.  The buses themselves were made by the White Motor Company around 1936 and then refurbished by Ford Motor company. Logos for both companies are on each vehicle.  Several different tours are available: some 3 to 4 hrs, others all day (8 hrs). If you are visiting Glacier I would highly recommend a Red Bus Tour and I stress the importance of a reservation.  It is a pretty popular activity in the Park and they get booked.  For more information, their website is: http://www.glaciernationalparklodges.com/red-bus-tours 

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Lobby of Glacier Park Lodge

Another historic and stunning feature of Glacier, are the historic lodges of the Park.  When planning a stay near Glacier, there are an abundance of lodging opportunities available from bed & breakfasts, camp grounds and several hotel chains. Even if you choose to stay somewhere other than the classic Lodges you’ve just got to go see these beautiful iconic lodges. Go have a cup of coffee or lunch or just peruse the little gift shops. (I did alot of perusing, ask my husband…) There are four beautiful historic Lodges at the Park: Glacier Park Lodge (built 1913), Many Glacier Hotel (1914), Lake McDonald Lodge (1913) and St. Mary Lodge and Resort (built early 1930’s) All of the Lodges were built in the grand, old style of a mountain resort with huge pillars, taxidermy mounts and several windows  to take in the views of beautiful mountains and pristine lakes.

Originally named Glacier National Park, back in 1910 there were about 100 glaciers, sadly that number has diminished to 37.  It is a changing world we live in and Yes you can blame it on Global warming, partially. However, in the bigger picture the climatic changes we experience are also evolutionary changes on our fragile planet.  Whatever the case may be, I highly recommend going to Glacier National Park and soaking up all the beauty you can experience there…get there before they all melt. It may be sooner than we realize.  Put your traveling shoes on. JES

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