Halloween Haunts

What’s this! Your cheeks sense chill air, crisply scented with leafy decay as a slow creeping sensation causes the hairs on the back of your neck to rise… it’s Halloween!! State parks are the best year-round, but are also the SP🎃🎃KIEST way to get a taste of nature as the days shorten. We thought we’d list prime, kooky ways to get your heart rate up!

Trains and Treats in California

There’s festive fun aplenty to get your autumn on track at the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento. Park goers should prepare themselves for a freight–er.. fright! on the Spookomotive Ride, leaving the station hourly this Saturday and Sunday, the 29th and 30th, from noon to 4 p.m. The 45-minute, 6-mile (round-trip) train ride is $15 for adults, $8 for young people aged 2-17, and free for children two years old and younger. A mad scientist will be on board to startle and delight passengers, as well as to field questions regarding how to reanimate sewn-together people, or use lightning as a renewable energy source for your own secret laboratories!

The theme for the weekend is Witches & Wizards, but if you’ve been waiting for the perfect moment to reveal your zombie train conductor costume with all its bells and whistles (overalls are back in a big way this fall, after all), the CSRM would probably be it. There’s trick-or-treating at the museum on Saturday, Oct. 29th, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. with plenty of sweets and knowledge to be had for magic folk and ghost engineers alike.

Chugging right along…

[Image: hiddensandiego.net]

Once called Día de los Muertos, Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead, is a pre-Columbian tradition which has its roots in central and southern Mexico. Today, the macabre-yet-bright skeletal imagery and the spirit of venerating deceased loved ones marks a holiday celebrated across cultures here in the United States. [Image: hiddensandiego.net]

If you can’t make the Halloween events at the CSRM and find yourself in southern California, you can check out the Día de los Muertos celebrations at Old Town San Diego SHP. On November 1st and 2nd, there will be historical and modern altars set up around the park to commemorate the inhabitants of Old Town. Visitors can take an altar tour to learn about this tradition, and themselves contribute to the “Tributes & Sentiments” chalk graveyard to remember their own loved ones.

Wicked Woods in New York

A halloween hallow?

Serene or sinister? The more you know, the more your answer will crystalize. [Image: www.pinterest.com]

In keeping with the haunted themes of the season, Green Lakes State Park in Central New York is welcoming one and all to their event, Wicked Woods. On October 29th, from 4 to 8 p.m., admission to the park is free. There will be beachside mini-golf and costumed trick-or-treating, a haunted trail, crafts, a photo booth, and a large bonfire to cap it all off. You can learn more about the event here. As an added bonus, you can work some feel good magic into your eerie festivities by bringing along a non-perishable food item to donate to the local food bank.

Owl-O-Ween in Tennessee

Owls have long been as much a part of Halloween imagery as pumpkins, ghosts or witches. It’s possible this is because of their domination of the nocturnal world, which they survey with their piercing eyes and well-informed demeanor. If you’ve ever taken a break from personifying these mighty nighttime hunters and wondered about the distant hollow hoots one occasionally hears on dusky hikes, Owl-O-Ween at Long Hunter State Park in Hermitage, Tennessee is just the ticket. For $3 per individual, or $5 per family, hikers can explore nature after sundown, while learning about the Barred Owl and its unique night-song from a knowledgeable ranger! October 29th, 7:30-8:30 p.m., guests are encouraged to make a reservation by calling 615-885-2422 or visiting the Long Hunter State Park website, here.

 

Uh oh...

This would look a whole lot more terrifying if you were a field mouse… [Image: www.birdwatchingdaily.com]

Whether you’re looking to take on Halloween fully costumed, or simply enjoy the smells of autumn, there is an inexpensive or free way to satisfy your Halloween cravings at a state park near you. There’s no time like the present to download a Pocket Ranger® mobile app and explore what’s going on!

Take a Note from a Wildfire

Photo taken on 9/20/16

The Soberanes Fire started burning the morning of July 22. In early August, fire officials determined that the fire began as an illegal campfire, that was started around 8:45 a.m. and left unattended near a trail in Garrapata State Park, about 20 miles north of Big Sur. The fire, 100% contained on October 12th, burned for 83 days and spread over 132,000 acres of California’s central coast, particularly in the Ventana Wilderness of Los Padres National Forest. The fire cost more than $230 million in fire suppression response and damages to private and public property, in addition to the death of a bulldozer operator whose rig overturned while fighting the blaze in steep backcountry. [Image: inciweb.nwcg.gov/]

Historically speaking, even though it may be one of the most expensive, the Soberanes Fire is not the most destructive wildfire to decimate thousands of acres in North America. In terms of area burned and lives lost, it isn’t remotely close—the Miramichi in New Brunswick, the Big Burn that scorched Idaho and Montana, and even the Great Chicago Fire all dwarf the Soberanes Fire, despite the fact that the latter burned for two-and-a-half months, and consumed 11 outbuildings and 57 homes in remote areas.

The bulk of the credit for the fire’s relative containment is due to better technology, research and wildfire-fighting science than was available at the time those terrible fires raged—to say nothing of the heroic, well organized, and supremely-trained fire response crews who fly, drive, hike, and parachute into the affected areas to combat the fire from every possible angle. There is however a key factor that connects the fires: their preventable and shared likely geneses, human intervention.

All of the destruction of Soberanes Fire—and the resources expended by heroic efforts imparted by wildland firefighters who battled its disastrous march up steep, secluded mountainsides—started with a single campfire set and abandoned by a careless human. If anything instructive can come from the Soberanes Fire, it’s the importance and reinforcement of good campfire safety and etiquette.

Seriously… Only YOU Can Prevent Wildfires!

The first rule of thumb is of course to heed warnings: never start fires where they are banned by the town, county or state you’re camping in, or when the U.S. Forest Service gives you Smokey-the-Bear eyes. They’re very judgmental if you don’t pay attention.

Failure to adhere to the bans is not only dangerous for adventure seekers, but for wildlife, and the native flora. The Forest Service uses the Fire Danger Rating System to communicate this succinctly. When the fire danger is high or very high to extreme, fires burn quickly and intensely, and can be difficult and dangerous to control. A small spark or ember, hoisted on even a slight breeze, can set a hillside ablaze. Clearly someone wasn't paying attention when this si[Photo by Lance Cheung. Source: commons.wikimedia.org]

Failure to adhere to the bans is not only dangerous for adventure seekers, but for wildlife and the native flora. The USFS uses the Fire Danger Rating System to communicate wildfire danger succinctly. Particularly when the fire danger is “high” to “extreme,” fires burn quickly and intensely, and can be difficult and dangerous to control. A small spark or ember, hoisted on even the slightest breeze, can set a hillside ablaze. [Photo by Lance Cheung. Source: commons.wikimedia.org]

Where fire danger is low to moderate and there isn’t a ban in effect, responsible, attended campfires in designated campfire rings and pits can provide a charming, immersive and educational look into outdoor living and our ancestral past. And also s’mores. When fires are permitted, it is best to use developed, designated fire rings or fire pits.

If fire rings are not present, as may happen when backpacking in undeveloped areas or wilderness, and fires aren’t illegal, still use caution: fires should be as small as possible and only be started when completely necessary. Consider the surface where the fire will burn, and be sure to clear away duff, brush or other combustible material, including your shelter, from the immediate area. Before starting a fire outside of a developed fire ring take steps to minimize the fire’s impact.

Enjoy the Campfire, But Don’t Be Rude!

Whether or not a fire is created in the backcountry or in a fire pit in a designated campsite, materials that enter the fire should be entirely, naturally combustible, as with tinder, kindling, wood and charcoal. Non-combustibles or pollutants like cans, tin foil, plastic and Styrofoam shouldn’t be burned, let alone left in the pit. (Pro tip: Leave No Trace principles are helpful whether you’re tucked away in dense, wooded backcountry, or staying at a KOA. Leaving garbage for the next camper to pick up is always a disappointment and detracts from the enjoyment of nature they and we all seek when we head out for a night of sleeping under the stars.)

Fire: Wouldn’t Want to Live Without It

Fire is a necessary component of life, whether we are in the wilderness or not. It cooks our food, warms our homes, propels our cars and busses, and even provides entertainment along with its warmth, as when we enjoy fireworks or a festive Yule log. But wildfires iterate in stark terms the danger of mistaking fire as a tamed resource. In our homes and in the wilderness, fire will always have a power that requires vigilance and attention for safety. As long as we remember to be mindful of that, campfires and fireplaces will remain as integral and warming as they have been for a million years.

[Image: recreation.gov]

“Gee, we really are lucky,” this camper seems to think, “both to enjoy this campfire as recreation rather than necessity, and because there are so many ways to enjoy a good fire safely!” [Image: recreation.gov]

Leaf Peeping in Southwestern Pennsylvania

By Sheena Baker, Somerset County Chamber of Commerce

Leaf peeping – traveling to view and photograph the changing fall foliage – is a favorite pastime for many on the East Coast each autumn, including in the Laurel Highlands of southwestern Pennsylvania. Brilliant shades of orange, crimson and gold adorn the rolling hills and countryside, turning the region into an awe-inspiring landscape of vivid colors.

There is no exact science to predicting when leaves will change colors, though factors like tree species, elevation and weather play an important role. In the Laurel Highlands, leaf peeping is usually best in late September through early October. We suggest those wanting a more precise fall foliage report visit the Pennsylvania DCNR website for weekly fall foliage reports.

While the Laurel Highlands offers a plethora of activities to celebrate and view the fall foliage, autumn is also the perfect time for a leisurely driving tour of Somerset County’s 10 historic covered bridges, which provide the ultimate leaf peeping tour destinations.

Red Covered Bridge Southwestern Pennsylvania

At one time, Pennsylvania was home to more than 1,000 covered bridges. Though it’s estimated that less than 200 of these unique, charming structures remain today, the Keystone State still boasts the distinction of being the “Covered Bridge Capital of the World.” Thirty-six of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties are home to at least one covered bridge with Lancaster County boasting 29, the highest number of any county.

To the naked eye, Somerset County’s 10 covered bridges may all appear to be the same. They’re all wooden structures with pitched roofs and painted red with white trim. If you’ve seen one covered bridge, you’ve seen them all, right? Wrong. Upon closer inspection, each of Somerset County’s bridges differs from one to the next. Aside from differing in length and the number of spans, the bridges vary in structure, too, as either burr truss designs or multiple kingpost truss bridges. There are other differences, too, if you take the time to look.

The details surrounding these landmarks’ origins are at times a bit fuzzy. For instance, some historians believe Walter’s Mill Bridge, on the Somerset Historical Center property, was constructed in 1830, which would make it the oldest surviving covered bridge in Somerset County and possibly one of the oldest in Pennsylvania. Others maintain it wasn’t built until 1859. Likewise, there are differing opinions on when Trostletown Bridge was erected, and no one knows who built Pack Saddle Bridge over Brush Creek in 1870. Those details are, as they say, lost to history, but we know that these structures were constructed in the mid- to late 19th century. Over the years, many – if not all – have been refurbished and restored, often to accommodate automobile traffic or to repair damage caused by weather-related incidents. The New Baltimore Bridge, originally constructed in 1879, was destroyed by a 1996 flood and was replaced by a replica two years later. Pack Saddle and Glessner bridges have also undergone extensive rehabilitation projects in the past 20 years.

These covered bridges are beautiful any time of year, but are truly breathtaking when complimented by autumn’s rich colors. They bring a certain romanticism and touch of history to life in our fast-paced, everyday society and make for stunning photo opportunities or just a fun day trip.

The Somerset County Chamber of Commerce offers a self-guided driving tour of all 10 covered bridges in America’s County®. Beginning and ending in Somerset, the approximately 175-mile Somerset County Covered Bridge – And More! – Tour guides visitors to the 10 bridges, turn by turn, and highlights other points of interest along the way, including the Flight 93 National Memorial, Quecreek Mine Rescue Site, The Mountain Playhouse, Stonycreek Whitewater Park and the Great Allegheny Passage, tabbed by National Geographic’s travel editors in 2012 as one of the top 10 places in the world to visit during fall. The brochure is available on the chamber’s website or by contacting the chamber and requesting a copy.

One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Rehabilitated Park

It can be difficult to be good to ourselves or the environment in a world filled with deadlines and busy shuffling to work, school and appointments. We are lucky though, when we need a break from the rush, to have parks and wildlife areas where we can escape. Parks where one might find some solace, a quiet respite, or simply hear one’s thoughts while cycling or watching campfire embers die down. Awesomely, there are parks where these realities mingle–parks that were once damaged by human negligence, but, through human work and diligence, are now places people can gather to reflect, unwind and enjoy nature. Here are a few rehabilitated parks where hard work paid off!

Fox Point State Park, Delaware

The first rehabilitated park we would like to share is Fox Point. It is a 55-acre state park more than 50 years in the making. The property that the park now occupies was once part of the Delaware River. Through the end of the 1800s and into the mid-1900s, the Pennsylvania Railroad dumped waste and sewage sludge into the river as it sought to increase industrial land along its right-of-way, essentially burying the river for its own benefit. In 1958, however, S. Marston Fox began lobbying to turn the land over to the people of Delaware, and spent the rest of his life carrying that torch.

And what light that torch has thrown! Access to the Delaware River should be for [Image: destateparks.com]

A well-hoisted torch! Access to the Delaware River is important for all. [Image: destateparks.com]

Through decades of legal battles and environmental remediation, Fox Point State Park is open to day-use activities like picnicking, rollerblading, biking, volleyball, and generally taking in the sights of the Delaware River. The hard work poured into Fox’s vision of a “window on the river” is part of the experience today, one can learn about the park’s history and how the property was rehabilitated while taking in views of Philadelphia and the Delaware Memorial Bridge, and strolling along that same river that inspired northern Delawareans to rally around Fox’s dream for shared access to nature.

Route 66 State Park, Missouri

Route 66 State Park in Missouri, much like its name suggests, showcases some of the history of the highway that captured imaginations as the “Main Street of America” in the middle of the last century. The park is outfitted with an intact 1935 roadhouse (which serves as its visitor’s center) and stuffed with exhibits that commemorate the roadway that John Steinbeck called “The Mother Road.”

But to only point out the park’s proximity to an historic road misses the heart of its complicated history.

Fish and frogs and fun!

A peaceful pond and landscape with no clear indication of there having been a town here. [Image: www.mostateparks.com]

Beyond its roadhouse and visitor’s center, the 419-acre, day-use park is primarily composed of trails that meander through flatland and swamp where there was once the town of Times Beach. Times Beach was a town established (through a newspaper promotion) in 1925.

Whoa! What a deal! [Image: www.allday.com]

Wow! What a deal! Indeed the boisterous language served to draw the attention of those who might wish to escape the summer heat along the scenic Meramec River. [Image: www.allday.com]

At the end of 1982, a devastating flood drove hundreds from their homes just as dioxin contamination (caused by tainted waste oil which had been distributed on the town’s roads to reduce dust) was confirmed. The Environmental Protection Agency recommended that no one return to inhabit the town, and the federal government and the state of Missouri bought out the land. State and federal agencies immediately set about cleaning up the contamination.

While not downplaying the hardship endured by those families, the sweetness at Route 66 State Park is undeniable—after more than a decade of rehabilitation, the park is not only healthy for human visitors, but the native swamps and attending wildlife have blossomed. Birds and frogs and deer provide a superb backdrop to outdoor recreation, where you can take a long bike ride, or learn about the ways people crossed the continent not even a hundred years ago. And all that adventure and education is just a short jot from St. Louis!

Freshkills Park, Staten Island

When its rehabilitation is complete, Freshkills Park on Staten Island will be nearly three times the size of Manhattan’s Central Park and the largest park developed in New York City in a hundred years. An impressive feat of environmental recuperation given that, from 1947 to 2001, Freshkills served New York City and its surrounding metropolitan area as a landfill.

Today, the park is characterized by a sprawl of native grasses and brush, wetlands and gentle blue kills, and sweeping sky views that are unusual in the city. Some of its completed rehabilitated segments, Schmul Park and Owl Hollow Fields, already serve the nearby residents of Staten Island and anyone else who wants to make their way to the island. On special occasions, like the recent Discovery Day, hundreds of acres that are still in development are open to visitors.

All of this within New York City! The view of a "kill," or a small stream or creek, at Freshkills Park. This photograph was taken during Discovery Day, on September 18th, 2016. [Image: Myrrah Dubey]

All of this within New York City, and not a skyscraper in sight! This shows a “kill,” or a small stream or creek, at Freshkills Park. This photograph was taken during Discovery Day, on September 18th, 2016.

Discovery Day speaks to the heart of the space, with free bicycles to borrow, and hour-long Audubon tours to teach guests about the wildlife that has thrived since the landfill was capped and the Park Plan has been implemented. Freshkills Park is a prime example of how a landscape can be brought back from the very brink of pollution, and grow into a green space we all can share and enjoy.

Keep Up the Good Work!

It’s important to reflect on how we interact with the world around us. It’s not always pleasant to think about our actions contributing to pollution, but being honest about it can empower us to make better choices. And, when it comes right down to it, the land that gets reclaimed from the clutches of pollution is just as precious as that which has always been pristine, if only because it speaks to the healing qualities embedded in the determination to make something better for ourselves and future generations.

Even with fall upon us, it’s not too late in the year to volunteer to clean up, or to just take some time for yourself in your favorite park! No better way to find out more about the parks near you than Pocket Ranger® mobile apps, that’ll get you out and on to exploration!

Three Beautiful Peaks above Tree Line in the Northeast

Contributed by Katie Levy of Adventure-Inspired

On a recent trip to Vermont and New Hampshire, I had a chance to hike above tree line, which isn’t something I get to do often, living in Pennsylvania. When you’re out of the woods and above the trees, it’s an incredible feeling. You’ll see different types of (typically very fragile) vegetation, have expansive views of the world around you, and if you walk up, you’ll know you’ve earned every bit of that experience!

Hikers on Mount Lafayette

Photo Credit: Katie Levy

Mount Mansfield, Vermont

Hiker on Mount Mansfield

Photo Credit: Katie Levy

At 4,393 feet above sea level, Mount Mansfield is the highest peak in Vermont. It’s particularly special because it’s one of few places in the state where true alpine tundra can be found. That being said, park officials take great care in protecting the foliage and preventing erosion; some trails up the mountain are closed from mid-April through Memorial Day. On top of the unique flora, if you look at the mountain from the east or west, it looks like a very long human face, complete with a chin, nose, and forehead.

The most popular way to get to the top is via Underhill State Park and one of four trails leading up the mountain. The Sunset Ridge and Laura Cowles trails provide the most direct access to the summit, aka the chin. I used the Sunset Ridge trail on a recent trip and it was steep, but absolutely worth the climb once my hiking partner and I popped out of the trees. Hikers can use the Long Trail to visit all three facial features, and a toll road gives folks not interested in making the tough climb up a chance to park close to the nose. It’s absolutely worth a trip if you’re in the area, but be prepared for crowds in the summer months.

Mount Marcy, New York

Growing up in Upstate New York meant frequent trips to the Adirondacks for outdoor adventure, and one of my favorite peaks to climb there is Mount Marcy. At 5,343 feet above sea level, it’s the highest point in New York and at the heart of the High Peaks Region, one of the most beautiful parts of the state. Most of the mountain and the surrounding areas are covered by thick woods, but the last few hundred feet take hikers out of the trees and above the world below.

The options for accessing Mount Marcy are seemingly endless, depending on whether you’re looking for a day hike or an overnight backpacking trip. The Van Hovenberg trail, which starts at the Adirondack Loj, is the shortest (around seven miles one-way) and most popular way up the mountain. It’s a long day trip, but there’s plenty of backcountry camping in the area, and every time I’ve visited, I’ve stayed at least two nights. I’ve been to Mount Marcy via the Johns Brook trail and Johns Brook Lodge, and from Lake Colden via Four Corners; it’s tough to go wrong in that part of New York State.

Mount Lafayette, New Hampshire

Hikers on Mount Lafayette one of three beautiful peaks in the northeast

Photo Credit: Katie Levy

At the northern end of Franconia Ridge, 5,249-foot Mount Lafayette stands above other nearby peaks, but not by much. It’s home to a variety of small, fragile types of alpine foliage, which is part of what makes it special, but what I loved most about climbing Mount Lafayette is the ridge walking it took to get to the top.

A variety of trails give hikers access to Mount Lafayette and Franconia Ridge, depending on whether you’re interested in visiting just the top of the mountain, or walking along the ridge to neighboring peaks. I did this loop counter-clockwise over Memorial Day weekend this year, covering nearly nine miles and visiting Little Haystack and Mount Lincoln before coming to Mount Lafayette. It’s one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve done in the Northeast, and thought it was packed, it’s well worth the trip. Be sure to add the Greenleaf Trail to your route, stop at the Greenleaf Hut (4,220′), and bring cash; even if you’re not an overnight guest, snacks are available for purchase there and after that hike, you’ll need the energy.

If you choose to do any of these hikes, keep a few key things in mind. First, weather changes very quickly when you’re up that high. Watch the forecast carefully, and stay below tree line if storms are predicted. Second, wear sturdy shoes and consider hiking poles to support you on the way down steep trails; your knees will thank you. Third, stay on the trail. As tempting as it can be to run around on the rocks above tree line, it’s tough enough for alpine vegetation to grow in the first place; stepping on fragile plants certainly won’t help.

Have you been to any of these mountains? Sound off in the comments!

Happy Birthday, NPS!

By now, you are probably aware that the National Park Service is celebrating its 100th birthday today, August 25th! And, it got us a present: free entry to all NPS parks and monuments today and for the whole weekend! Yessiree! The 124 parks that usually charge admission are completely free to enter, which takes a chunk of the cost out of more than 400 ways national park-goers have to explore something wild, imbued with history, AND awe-inspiring all at once.

[Image: www.nps.gov]

One hundred years of juuust enough development so you can explore, really branch out, and find genuine, quiet solitude (especially with a back country permit), but ideally not get completely lost. Cheers! [Image: www.nps.gov]

And not only is the NPS throwing its boom gates wide open, but there are state parks departments across the country also offering free admission today! New Hampshire State Parks are on board in the east, as Washington State Parks open their arms in the west.

Over the weekend, you can have a first-hand encounter with some of the wonder preserved at our national parks, monuments, battlefields and historic sites. Among the many splendors at our national parks, you can take in waterfalls or tour earthwork forts. You can hike up mountains, or maybe see (and stay a safe distance from) bison, bighorn sheep, or elk. Maybe you’ll catch sight of an elusive wolf pack or share the shade of a stately saguaro. Or you could possibly even find yourself exploring caves, swimming in an ocean, lake, or river, engaged in watching a reenactment, or simply taking a stroll somewhere beautiful. The National Parks are the gateway to our heartland!

[Image: www.whitehousehistory.org]

Then-President Teddy Roosevelt undoubtedly squinting against the sun (it was really bright, okay?) as he looks at the future–the preservation of natural wonders that could almost bring tears to a Rough Rider’s eyes. Almost. [Image: www.whitehousehistory.org]

However we take in the splendor of our natural resources, it is important to remember that while the NPS centennial is an achievement that we’ve all had a hand in simply by visiting or voicing our appreciation for the parks, there is still work to be done. These priceless park landscapes have largely been pristine for millions of years, but they increasingly face challenges posed by our ever-changing world. Celebrating the NPS Centennial equally honors our nation’s conservation efforts, and draws attention to the action required to preserve it for another hundred years, and another hundred after that, for ourselves and the generations yet to come. Whatever your views on this journey we’re all on, visiting a national park this weekend is a great way to learn about the resources around you, our effect on them, and how we can work together to make them even better.

Onward!

[Image: www.whitehouse.gov]

President Barack Obama looks out at the Grand Canyon, and beyond taking in the awesome scenery, perhaps considers the next one hundred years of the National Park Service, to which he has added 27 new monuments during his presidency. [Image: www.whitehouse.gov]

If you aren’t able to celebrate in a park on the 25th or this weekend, National Park Service gates are open again for National Public Lands Day on September 24th, and on Veteran’s Day in November. For a full run-down on what all is going on at a national park near you, there’s a full events feed on the Pocket Ranger® National Parks Passport Guide mobile app!

Celebrate 100 Years of the NPS in Western PA

Contributed By Sheena Baker, Somerset County Chamber of Commerce

What comes to mind when you think of national parks?

Most people associate national parks with the sprawling landscapes and geographical wonders of the West – Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon – when in reality there are more than 400 national parks, battlefields, monuments, historic sites, lakeshores, scenic rivers, trails and recreation areas across the U.S. and its territories, each one as unique and diverse as American citizens themselves.

As more and more Americans pushed westward in the 19th century, conservationists began to fear for the loss of the country’s scenic wonders, stunning landscapes and its native species as well as historic sites and natural monuments. This preservation movement slowly gained momentum and on March 1, 1872, President Grant signed a bill creating Yellowstone Park, the world’s first national park, “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” Other parks – Yosemite, Sequoia and Crater Lake – followed in the years to come thanks to the efforts of men like John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt, but it was decades before the national parks – what writer and historian Wallace Stegner called “the best idea we ever had” – had their own unified identity.

Finally, on Aug. 25, 1916, Congress and President Wilson created the National Park Service to preserve and protect the country’s growing list of national parks while also leaving the sites “unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

Since then, the National Park Service has worked with partners and volunteers as stewards to guard and promote these natural and cultural resources for the millions of people who visit these sites each year. In 2015 alone, more than 300 million people visited U.S. national parks.

This year marks the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary and to celebrate, the NPS launched the “Find Your Park” campaign to encourage Americans to discover and reconnect with the vast multitude of national parks across the country and to find a park that speaks to them personally. On Aug. 25, the day the NPS hits the century mark, until Aug. 28 – the National Park Service is offering free admission into all of its 412 sites.

Pennsylvania is home to 19 national parks or NPS-managed sites. No doubt most people think of Gettysburg National Military Park or Independence Hall in Philadelphia when they think of NPS sites in the Keystone State, but did you know there are five national parks in southwestern Pennsylvania?

To celebrate the National Park Service’s centennial this month, we suggest you #findyourpark at one of these five NPS sites in our region.

Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site

NPS site in Western PA

Image: Sheena Baker

When New York’s newly completed Erie Canal began negatively impacting business and trade in Pennsylvania in the mid-1820s, businessmen and legislators sought a solution to keep the state – and their interests – competitive. In 1826, the Pennsylvania legislature approved the Mainline of Public Works for the construction of the Pennsylvania Mainline Canal from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. However, crossing the Keystone State also meant crossing the formidable Allegheny Mountains, a seemingly impossible task for a canal system. Instead, engineers built the Allegheny Portage Railroad, a system of 10 inclined planes – five ascending and five descending – with large stationary engines to pull and lower boats, rail cars and freight over the mountains from the Hollidaysburg canal basin in the east to the Johnstown basin in the west. With the completion of the 36.69-mile Portage Railroad in 1834, the Pennsylvania Mainline Canal – which came with a $16.5 million price tag – reduced travel time from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh from 23 days to just four. Today the Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site covers 1,249 acres in Blair and Cambria counties and is, as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette describes it, a “national park for nerds” as the site pays homage to engineering and innovation. At the park’s main unit, visitors can learn about the Portage Railroad at the Summit Level Visitor Center, tour the historic Lemon House, see Engine House #6 and the Skew Arch Bridge, and hike numerous trails. Visitors can also see Staple Bend Tunnel, the first railroad tunnel built in the U.S., at a second, separate until of the Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site near Mineral Point. During the summer, park rangers lead heritage hikes, offer van tours of the railroad’s route from Hollidaysburg to Johnstown and host Evening on the Summit events on select Saturdays.

Flight 93 National Memorial

Image: Sheena Baker

Image: Sheena Baker

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, 40 ordinary individuals boarded a plane in Newark, N.J., bound for San Francisco. Little did they know that just over an hour after takeoff, they would band together as “citizen soldiers” in America’s first fight against a new kind of jihadist terrorism. The Flight 93 National Memorial tells the story of the passengers and crew of United Airlines Flight 93 and pays tribute to their heroic actions, which prevented the plane’s four al-Qaida hijackers from reaching their intended target, believed to be the U.S. Capitol, just a short 18 minutes flying time from where the Boeing 757 crashed into an abandoned strip mine near Shanksville, killing all on board. Since the 2001 terror attacks, more than 2 million people from around the world have paid tribute to the Flight 93 story by visiting first the temporary memorial administered by local caretakers – the Flight 93 ambassadors – and later the Flight 93 National Memorial, which opened to the public in 2011. Today the memorial includes a visitor center with interactive displays, a flightpath overlook, a marble wall of names, 40 groves of memorial tress and nearly 3 miles of walking trails. Plans are underway to complete the memorial’s last phase, a 93-ft. tall Tower of Voices featuring 40 wind chimes, one for each passenger and crew member. During the Sept. 10-11 weekend, the National Park Service will lead the Families of Flight 93, Friends of Flight 93 and others in commemorating the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks with special ceremonies and programming. Be sure to visit the memorial’s website for details. The memorial also hosts the annual Plant a Tree at Flight 93 reforestation project each spring as well as Walk 93, an untimed public walk to raise awareness and support for the memorial.

Fort Necessity National Battlefield

Image: Sheena Baker

Image: Sheena Baker

Before American colonists fought for freedom from British rule in the Revolutionary War, the British and French struggled for possession of the immense and valuable Ohio River Valley and Ohio Territory west of the Appalachians. That struggle came to a head in 1754-1755 when the British, under the command of Maj. Gen. Edward Braddock and a young Lt. Col. George Washington, made two failed attempts to push the French from Fort Duquesne in modern-day Pittsburgh. At Fort Necessity National Battlefield, site of Washington’s lone military defeat, visitors can learn how precursors to the French and Indian War – and the worldwide Seven Years War – were fought in the Laurel Highlands. In addition to offering a reconstructed version of Washington’s “fort of necessity,” an impressive Interpretive and Education Center with interactive displays and 5 miles of walking trails, Fort Necessity National Battlefield also details the history of the National Road (modern-day U.S. 40). Visitors can travel back through time and learn about the highway’s construction, its decline during the industrial, railroading age and its rebirth as an automobile “motor touring” highway in the 20th century. The Mount Washington Tavern, a former stagecoach stop overlooking the reconstructed fort, is also part of Fort Necessity National Battlefield and serves as a museum depicting life along the National Road during its heyday.

Friendship Hill National Historic Site

NPS site in Western PA

Image: Sheena Baker

Tucked in the westernmost corner of Fayette County on the banks of the Monongahela River, Friendship Hill National Historic Site is the country estate of Albert Gallatin, who served as Secretary of the Treasury for 13 years under the Jefferson and Madison administrations. The Swiss-born gentleman farmer and diplomat was influential in developing the United States in its infancy, planning the financing of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, funding the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1804-1806, and advocating for federal funding for roads and canals, which eventually led to the building of the National Road in 1811. Today visitors to Friendship Hill can explore Gallatin’s uniquely constructed home, enjoy more than 9 miles of hiking and cross-country skiing trails on the 675-acre estate, visit the gravesite of Gallatin’s first wife, Sophia, and gain insight into life in early America. On Sept. 24-25, be sure to visit FestiFall, hosted by the National Park Service and the Friendship Hill Association. The free, two-day event celebrates the life and times of Gallatin and includes demonstrations, period music and food, crafts, children’s activities and more.

Johnstown Flood National Memorial

Image: Sheena Baker

Image: Sheena Baker

Sitting on a mountainside 14 miles northeast of the city of Johnstown, Lake Conemaugh once served as a reservoir for the nearby Pennsylvania Mainline Canal before it and the canal system became obsolete in the 1850s. Decades later, it became the home of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, an exclusive and somewhat secretive summer retreat for wealthy Pittsburgh industrialists and businessmen. A series of missteps and poor maintenance over the years made the deteriorating South Fork Dam a “ticking time bomb,” and on the afternoon of May 31, 1889, after a night of torrential rain, the structure gave way, unleashing 20 million tons – an estimated 3.6 billion gallons – of water on the unsuspecting residents of the valley below. The Johnstown Flood of 1889, the sixth worst death toll disaster in U.S. history and the country’s deadliest inland flood, claimed 2,209 lives and caused more than $17 million in property damage. The Johnstown Flood National Memorial, built on the banks of what was once Lake Conemaugh in Saint Michael, preserves the remnants of the South Fork Dam, the former lakebed and several buildings of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club. At the site’s visitor center, visitors can watch the powerful “Black Friday” film, hear one survivor’s harrowing account, see interactive maps and displays, and visit the north and south abutments of the South Fork Dam. In the summer, park rangers offer guided tours around the lake as well as van trips and hikes along the flood’s path. Each spring, the National Park Service commemorates the anniversary of the 1889 flood with special programs and events, including a luminaria ceremony remembering the flood’s victims.