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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.

The National Park Service Centennial

Happy Birthday, National Park Service! We're a little early, but with spring's ebullient arrival, there's plenty of time to have our cake and eat it, too. [Image: www.pinterest.com]

Happy birthday, National Park Service! We’re a little early, but with spring’s ebullient arrival and all those mountains to see and trails to hike, we’ll need plenty of time to have our cake and eat it, too. [Image: www.pinterest.com/]

As avid parkgoers, you’ve probably heard that the National Parks Service is celebrating its 100th birthday on August 25 of this year. Since 1916, when President Woodrow Wilson signed the act that created the National Park Service, it has grown to serve over 300 million visitors annually. The various parks, historical sites, battlefields, and monuments have welcomed, taught, and tested generations of outdoors enthusiasts, natural historians, and students of all ages. It has expanded to preserve more than 50 million acres of wilderness and parkland, as well as some of the most recognizable features of the American landscape. And since there’s really no time like the present to get out and soak in some of that centenarian wisdom, here are a couple of parks highlighted for their age and relevance in bookending the NPS’s hundred year history.

The Very First Park

A picture of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone taken by one of the surveyors, William Henry Jackson, in 1871, before the park was in color--I mean, before the park was designated. [Image: nps.gov]

A picture of the Grand Canyon in Yellowstone taken by one of the surveyors, William Henry Jackson, in 1871 before the park was in color—err, before the park was designated. This image may well have served as evidence of Yellowstone’s immeasurable value as a publicly held and preserved resource. [Image: nps.gov/]

The oldest park run by the NPS is, of course, the unmistakable Yellowstone National Park. The area itself has been important to Native Americans for over 11,000 years, and the park as a federally managed entity predates the establishment of the NPS. In fact, Yellowstone was the first national park in the world when President Ulysses S. Grant signed the park into law with The Act of Dedication in 1872. The insistent lobbying of Ferdinand V. Hayden held that the park was an invaluable resource that should “be set aside for the pleasure and enjoyment of the people” rather than private development, due to the area’s vast richness and universal beauty.

Thankfully, the park today is still filled with all the grandeur and wonder that throws one’s sense of self into sharp relief. It feels good to feel so small, especially when confronted with the immensity of the earth’s many diverse facets.

A Great Divide

Grand Canyon National Park—which celebrated its own (97th!) birthday at the end of last month—is just about as iconic as it comes. At 277 river-miles long, one mile deep, and, in some places, 18 miles across, its colossal presence washes over the observer and vanishes beyond the horizon like a variegated adobe-hued, butte-waved ocean.

This space is objectively sacred, but never more sacred than to the American Indian tribes that have lineal claims to the area, such as the Paiute, Navajo, Havasupai, and Hualapai, to name a few. There are more than a dozen tribes whose forebears, the Ancestral Puebloan peoples, began settling in and around the Grand Canyon over 10,500 years ago. [Image: www.destination360.com]

The Grand Canyon is, well, grand. But it’s also deeply sacred to the distinct American Indian tribes who make, or once made, their homes along the canyon: the Navajo, Havasupai, Paiute, Zuni, Hualapai, and Hopi, to name just a few. The Hopi are believed to be descended from the Ancestral Puebloan peoples, who began settling in and around the Four Corners area and the Grand Canyon thousands of years ago. [Image: www.destination360.com/]

Since 1882, the U.S. government has largely wielded its control over the canyon by claiming it as a public space. In the intervening time, the parkland has been designated a game preserve, a national monument, and finally in 1919, the 17th U.S. National Park. The park is tremendously popular and sees around five million visitors annually, though few reach the bottom of the steep ravine. The centennial celebrations may prove to be interesting fodder at Grand Canyon National Park, as discussions around the planning of the Grand Canyon Escalade continue to play out. As the NPS enters its second century, the decisions made here will be very telling of the future it sees for itself. For now, the canyon stands as it has for time immemorial, with admittedly more amenities, hiking trails, and whitewater enthusiasts.


Torch-bearer because it is a beautiful testament to where we've been, and a good litmus for where we may be headed. [Image: wilderness.org]

Torchbearer, because it is a beautiful testament to where we’ve been and a good litmus for where we may be headed. [Image: wilderness.org/]

Although age is a curious barometer in the realm of timeless natural wonders, the “youngest” park managed by the NPS is Pinnacles National Park. Set aside by Theodore Roosevelt in 1908 as Pinnacles National Monument, the park has grown over time and was renamed in 2013, though all the NPS locations are treated with equal status regardless of title.

The park’s craggy, cave-riddled landscape is the millennia-worn face of the extinct Neenach Volcano, which erupted over 23 million years ago. The volcano has been split in the intervening time by the San Andreas Fault, and its halves have moved 200 miles apart! The park is also the home of some hatched-in-captivity California condors and is a must-visit for rock climbers and hikers (outside of the summer months, of course).

The buzz about this 100th year isn’t about the NPS as much as it is about us as Americans, travelers, and lovers of the natural world. And the NPS, no doubt in recognition of that, is looking to hear your experiences and stories. Beyond the newest, oldest, most popular, or those with the most recognizable natural features, we celebrate the connection that each of us forms individually with our favorite parks, and with what the national and state parks strive to at once cultivate and preserve across the country.

If you’re planning (or would like to plan) a trip to a national or state park near you, you’ll find downloading your state’s Pocket Ranger® mobile app or the Pocket Ranger® National Parks Passport Guide is a great first step. With park overviews, maps, facilities, and activities at your fingertips, you’re sure to have terrific time!

Featured: Yellowstone National Park

This month’s featured park is none other than Yellowstone National Park, a sprawling 2.2 million acres of natural geothermal bedspread based in the northwestern corner of Wyoming and certain parts of Idaho and Montana.

This vast ecological center is seated on top of the Yellowstone Caldera, a massive supervolcano stretching between 35–45 miles. Not to worry, though; the last recorded eruption was approximately 70,000 years ago, and our technology has since improved so that you’re highly unlikely to be caught in the fireworks so to speak.


Yellowstone National Park is dazzling in the summer. [Image: http://www.hdwallpaperscool.com/]

While there are various debates on where the park attained its name, the two outstanding theories are that it may be named after the Yellowstone River from the Minnetaree Indian name Mi tse a-da-zi (Yellow Rock River). However, based on common lore, there is also the possibility that the name was derived from the yellow rock surrounding the area. French trappers came and called the river “Roche Jaune” (Yellow Rock) which, when later translated, was what stuck with travelers and led it to be referred to as “Yellowstone.”

Ferdinand V. Hayden primarily headed the expedition, discovery, and the park’s eventual designation as a protected natural area. It was a slippery discovery that lasted an approximate 30 years before it stepped past the label of myths and folklore. On March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant officially signed what was considered The Act of Dedication that protected the park’s area from settlement and occupancy. Since then, the park has been successfully conserved for almost two centuries and is the leading (and arguably most important) geothermal resource in the entire world.

If you’re planning to visit Yellowstone National Park this fall or coming winter, here are some activities and views that you can enjoy while at this wonderful, breathtaking area.

Geothermal Glory

Yellowstone is well known for its geothermal and hydrothermal system and its many geysers that can be found within the park. A study in 2011 estimated the park to have approximately 1,200 geysers with about 400 of them active annually. Impressively, the park is estimated to contain 10,000 geothermal features, meaning that 2/3 of the world’s geysers are concentrated in Yellowstone.

One of its most famous geysers is Old Faithful, which erupts at a rate of 45–120 minutes.


Old Faithful erupting in the sunset. [Image: http://www.yellowstonenationalpark.org/]

Aside from Old Faithful, other famous geysers in the park include Castle Geyser, Lion Geyser, Beehive Geyser, and the Norris Geyser Basin. You can visit the park at any point throughout the fall and winter to witness these amazing spectacles.

Wildlife Viewing

Because the park’s ecosystem is one of the most primitive and well-preserved on Earth, it makes for a suitable environment to house a diverse population of wildlife. All across its mountains and acres of space, various mammals, reptiles, birds, amphibians, and fish can be found dwelling within this natural ecospace.

Among the mammals that can be found in Yellowstone are coyotes, wolves, the largest purebred bison herd in the Americas, and antelope. Bears are also commonly encountered in Yellowstone, so it is highly advised to read up on safety methods before visiting. Coming near or disturbing the animals is not advised, and visitors are recommended to stay at least 100 yards away from bears and wolves, and 25 yards away from any other mammals in Yellowstone.

Yellowstone wolves howling. [Image url: http://enchantedseashells.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/us-national-parks-yellowstone-wolf-quest-2-wolves.jpg?w=584&h=304]

Yellowstone wolves howling. [Image: http://enchantedseashells.files.wordpress.com/]

The park is also home to 311 species of birds, including bald eagles, ravens, and even whooping cranes (though the recorded sightings of those are rare). One can also spot harlequins, ducks, ospreys, and peregrine falcons.

Fishing is allowed in Yellowstone, and 18 species of fish can be found here, including lake trout, cutthroat trout, and mountain whitefish. Be sure to check the Rules & Regulations as well as the seasons and bag limits if you wish to go fishing in this reservoir.

Reptiles can be found within the park, including about six types of snakes such as the rubber boa, wandering garter snake, and the prairie rattlesnake. And additionally, amphibians can be found on the park grounds as well. Boreal chorus frogs, boreal toads, and blotched tiger salamanders are only three examples of what can be found within Yellowstone.

Early Winter in Yellowstone

Now that winter is coming, Yellowstone is probably the first park to trudge deep into the season. With its wonderfully arched slopes and miles upon miles of trails, Yellowstone is premium for winter adventuring. Tons of snow piles on top of the surroundings so that the whole scene is a gorgeous blanket of white surrounded by pine trees adorned in silver. It’s particularly beautiful when the setting or rising sun’s soft shades of red, purple, orange, and yellow hug the skies. These same colors illuminate the blanket of snow, truly making for a breathtaking sight.

Winter in Yellowstone [Image url: http://www.nps.gov/features/yell/slidefile/scenics/winterscenes/Images/10029.jpg]

Winter in Yellowstone. [Image: http://www.nps.gov/]

Meanwhile hot springs decorated with tufts of snow erupt in their usual frequency, providing a sense of heat. Coyotes, wolves, bison, and bears trudge through the snow and leave behind paw prints on the winter grounds.

Despite the cold freeze, Yellowstone is a marvelous place for various winter activities, offering miles of perfect, snow-filled trails for skiers and commercially-guided snowmobile tours. Other opportunities include winter ranger programs, guided ski and snowshoe tours, and cross-country skiing.

If you wish to visit Yellowstone, check out the following links to help guide you in your adventure!

And as always, let us help you! The Pocket Ranger® National Park Passport Guide features a comprehensive guide of Yellowstone National Park. Find us in Apple Store and Google Play, and go adventuring today!

Why Are Wolves So Scary?


Wolves with a crow

Image: www.pinterest.com

Wolves once roamed far and wide from Canada to Mexico, until the arrival of Europeans who killed them off to protect livestock and domesticated animals. Large-scale predator control programs continued in the U.S., further dwindling their numbers. To this day, some states allow the hunting of wolves although they’re listed as endangered. By the 20th century, the species had almost disappeared from the eastern U.S., except in some areas of the Appalachians and Northwestern Great Lakes Region. Wolves are natural predators, which makes our fears justified. But there are myths behind the obsession of killing wolves, which continues to exist despite their numbers low numbers. After all, why are wolves so scary?

Wolves Howling at the Moon and Other Myths

Image: www.tumblr.com

Image: www.tumblr.com

It’s widely accepted that wolves howl at the moon, but the function of howling has little to do with this folklore gossip. The Big Bad Wolf tales of Aesop’s fables, Grimms’ Fairy Tales, and the werewolf further add to the gossip. Popular mythology, folklore, and let’s not forget movies, paint the wolf as an evil omen— a bloodthirsty animal who attacks children, cattle or sheep. Sheep are usually connected to a godly goodness, but the wolf is no better than the devil. Unlike the Europeans, Native Americans viewed the wolf as a guide, once being men and now seen as brothers. Some tribes respected their hunting skills and tried to emulate them.

It turns out that long howl, sometimes heard as far as 5 miles is a form of communication used to attract mates, assemble a pack, signal alarm or scare off predators. Wolf howling increases during evening and early dawn, and more so during winter or breeding season. The mythic image of a wolf howling at the moon fits right in since the moon is always hanging around when the wolf is howling!

What are the Benefits of Wolves in the Wild?

To prevent total extinction, wolves have been reintroduced in the wild. One of those efforts is the well-known, gray wolves restoration in Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho. During 1995 and 1996, 31 gray wolves from western Canada were relocated to Yellowstone where they had been absent since the 1920s. Now 20 years later, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, estimates that there are 1,691 wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountain in areas of Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon, and with a few brave ones venturing as far as Utah, California and Colorado.

The reintroduction of wolves in the wild is beneficial for biodiversity. Wolves are apex predators that eat off sick and dead animals, and also control the population of species. For example, elk eat vegetation, such as aspen and willow trees, grazing heavily to an unsustainable level. The presence of the wolves changes these patterns; the elk no longer venture far, instead they limit their grazing. This vegetation then becomes available to smaller species like the beaver, which in the case of Yellowstone National Park had become extinct. Experts say the red fox has recovered as well as small predators, rodents and birds thanks to wolves hunting coyotes. Without predators our ecosystems are out of balance. There are many levels and connections between organisms; by removing a level, this disrupts the balance, created from millions years of evolution.

Image: www.lh6.ggpht.com

Image: www.lh6.ggpht.com

There’s also an economic benefit as it relates to wildlife tourism. From 2004 to 2006, Yellowstone National Park conducted a survey of visitors, and found that more than 150,000 people a year from different parts of the world came to Yellowstone for one reason alone: wolves.

Should We Continue to Hunt Wolves?

The conventional reasoning for hunting wolves falls within this spectrum: to prevent attack on humans and and livestock. Wolves only occupy about 5 to 8 percent of their former range thanks to human persecution and destruction of habitats. A new study published last year finds that killing wolves to protect livestock is actually counterproductive. When a wolf is killed, livestock are more likely to get killed the following year, by 5 to 6 percent. More livestock die even when only a few wolves get killed off, possibly because wolf packs get broken up into two groups when either the alpha female or male die.

After recent recovery efforts and a praise-worthy rise in wolf population, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service dropped federal protections in 2011-2012 from wolves in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Idaho, Montana, parts of Washington, Oregon, and Utah. Since their reintroduction into the wild, 2,000 wolves were killed by 2013. Wisconsin hunters killed more than 150 gray wolves just this past year during a state-sanctioned wolf hunt. Many wildlife advocates argued that it was too early to remove wolves from the Endangered Species list. Last year, the rule was overturned in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan after complaints from conservationists that hunting would ruin recovery efforts in those states. What’s worse is that even when the wolf is federally protected, rules allow shooting wolves when livestock are threatened. Hunting also continues in Alaska and Canada, where the wolf population is steady.

Farmers and ranchers worry about their livestock, and typically oppose the recovery of wolves and support hunting efforts. Defenders of Wildlife has compiled A Guide to Nonlethal Tools and Methods to Reduce Conflict with useful tips for farmers and cattle owners who want to keep wolves away from their livestock without killing them.

Human and Wolf Interaction

Human touching wolf's neck.

Image: www.alphahowlin.tumblr.com

Wolf attacks are considered rare but they do happen especially in the wild areas of Canada and Alaska. Wolf attacks are often in retaliation to the invasion of their habitats, but this is not always the case. They don’t readily attack humans who keep their distance, and not all wolves behave aggressively, but if provoked they will react like any other animal. A wolf’s hunting instincts detect weak animals or injured ones, knowing full well they’ll win in a fight.

Sometimes wolf attacks occur when prey are scarce, and they must resort to scavenging close to human areas. L. David Mech, a wildlife research Biologist with the International Wolf Center explains that wolves lose the fear of humans when there is a chance for reward. Though it’s not always true, this seems to be a necessary condition for an attack.

“This combination of lack of fear, proximity to humans, and the presence of many small children in heavy cover may promote in some bolder wolves the tendency to experiment with this new type of prey,” says Mech.

In some cases, wolves lose fear of humans, but yet they don’t attack. How is this possible? Since humans stand on two legs, they have a slight resemblance to bears and wolves generally avoid bears. None of a wolf’s prey stands on two legs. It’s also true that wolves have learned to avoid humans after all those years of persecution. For example, the wolves on Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior, which haven’t been harassed by humans since their arrival on the island in 1949, retain their extreme shyness of humans. There are a few places, however, where wolves have either lost their shyness of people or perhaps never developed it.

And while no one wants to be Timothy Treadwell, making the grave mistake of setting camp near bear-central in times of food scarcity, the video below illustrates how it’s possible for men to interact with some wild animals.

If you want to see where wolves still roam, download out Pocket Ranger® Guide for Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife Apps. And if you spot a cool wolf, share it on our social media sites, like our Pocket Ranger® or Trophy Case Instagram accounts.

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

A long time ago, wolves scared us. Countless myths, fairytales, and legends about big bad wolves in deep dark forests stand as proof. But wolves are closer to us than we think: once upon a time, man’s best friend was a wolf. Now that gray wolf populations are growing in several western U.S. states, they’re about to get even closer.

Image: www.thewildlifenews.com

Wolves making their way back from the brink of extinction [Image: www.thewildlifenews.com]

As keystone predators, wolves are essential to maintaining the population dynamics of an ecosystem. An interesting thing happened after wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone: the beaver, having been absent from the park for nearly a century, suddenly returned. Why? Without wolves, fearless and overabundant elk began to congregate in the low valleys where they quickly consumed all the young willow and aspen shoots—a beaver’s main food source. Once the wolf re-established itself and stabilized the elk population, willow and aspen came back to the valley floors and with it came the beaver. The red fox also made a comeback due to a reduction in coyote numbers.

A Yellowstone wolf where wolf watching has become a tourist attraction [www.mensjournal.com]

A Yellowstone wolf where wolf-watching has become a major tourist attraction [Image: www.mensjournal.com]

Stories like the one above point to the irony that, while we make the wolf out to be a ruthless killer, the wolf is essential to maintaining a diverse ecosystem. However, despite their moderate success and proven benefit to ecosystems, wolf populations are still very low with an estimated 7,000 in the lower 48 states. Another hurdle to the wolf’s expansion is their purported role in livestock depredation. According to a 2011 USDA report, wolves were responsible for less than a percent (.2%) of all cattle depredations (in 2011 dogs killed more cattle than wolves). That’s hardly big or bad.

Wolves have wide paws to  help navigate heavy snow [Image: commons.wikimedia.org]

Wolves have wide paws to help navigate heavy snow [Image: commons.wikimedia.org]

According to the map below, there is suitable wolf habitat throughout the west and all along the northern corridors of New England. Will the wolf ever find its way there? It all depends on whether or not we want them there.

Gray wolf habitat [Image: www.biologicaldiversity.org]

Gray wolf habitat [Image: www.biologicaldiversity.org]

The reality is that the presence of wolves drastically benefits our natural resources. In terms of wildlife management, wolves strengthen elk and deer herds by culling the old and sick (thereby slowing the spread of ungulate diseases). If what we want in our state and national parks is to experience the natural world on its own terms, then surely the wolf should be part of that experience. Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf? Not us.

Happy 97th Birthday, National Park Service!

The National Park Service is celebrating its 97th birthday this Sunday, August 25th. The best thing about this birthday bash is that the whole country gets a present! Before we unveil what this present actually is, we’ll fill you in on some great American history, so you can truly appreciate this momentous event.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park [Photo credit: mikerhicks]

“Founder’s Day” observes the creation of the NPS through a congressional act signed by President Woodrow Wilson back in 1916. On that day a new agency was born with a mission to “conserve the scenery and the natural historic objects and wild life therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

While August 25, 1916 is considered the NPS’s official birthday, several national parks were born before this time. Yellowstone National Park, for instance, was established by an act signed on March 1, 1872 by President Ulysses S. Grant. This glorious park is the nation’s first national park and boasts an impressive reputation as one of the top ten visited national parks today.


Castle Geyser during an eruption. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA. [Photo credit: Wikipedia]

By the late 1920’s additional parks started to crop up, but for the most part it was a western park system with many of its sites established west of the Mississippi with the exception of Acadia National Park in Maine. Slowly but surely, the national park system grew to include battlefields, monuments, historic sites and trails, and even military parks.

Today, the National Park Service manages and maintains 401 sites throughout the country! For years, people from all over the world have visited these sites for their breathtaking scenery, endless recreational opportunities, and cultural and historical significance. Have you? If you haven’t stepped into a National Park Service site yet, this Sunday is the perfect day to do it. The NPS has a gift for you—a free visit to many of its sites! This doesn’t happen very often— only three times a year, to be exact (September 28, which is National Public Lands Day and November 9-11, which is Veterans Day Weekend).

If you take advantage of NPS’s free entrance day on Sunday, stop by the bookstores at the visitor centers and you’ll get 15% off on all items. Take a look at the list of participating parks below and contact each park directly for operating hours and event schedules. Who knows— you might end up in more than one national park!

Alaska: Denali National Park and Preserve

Arizona: Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, Chiricahua National Monument, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Grand Canyon National Park, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Montezuma Castle National Monument, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Petrified Forest National Park, Pipe Spring National Monument, Saguaro National Park, Sunset Crater, Volcano National Monument, Tonto National Monument, Tumacacori National Historical Park, Tuzigoot National Monument, Walnut Canyon National Monument, Wupatki National Monument

Arkansas: Fort Smith National Historic Site, Pea Ridge National Military Park

California: Cabrillo National Monument, Death Valley National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Lava Beds National Monument, Muir Woods National Monument, Pinnacles National Monument, Sequoia National Park, Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, Yosemite National Park

Colorado: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado National Monument, Dinosaur National Monument, Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Hovenweep National Monument, Mesa Verde National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park

Florida: Canaveral National Seashore, Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, Dry Tortugas National Park, Everglades National Park, Gulf Islands National Seashore

Georgia: Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, Cumberland Island National Seashore, Fort Frederica National Monument, Fort Pulaski National Monument

Hawaii: Haleakalā National Park, Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park

Idaho: Craters of the Moon National Monument, Yellowstone National Park

Indiana: Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial

Maine: Acadia National Park

Maryland: Antietam National Battlefield, Assateague Island National Seashore, Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park, Fort McHenry NM and Historic Shrine National Monument, Fort Washington Park, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park

Massachusetts: Adams National Historical Park, Cape Cod National Seashore

Michigan: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Minnesota: Pipestone National Monument

Mississippi: Gulf Islands National Seashore, Vicksburg National Military Park

Missouri: Harry S Truman National Historic Site, Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield

Montana: Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, Glacier National Park, Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, Yellowstone National Park

Nebraska: Scotts Bluff National Monument

Nevada: Death Valley National Park, Lake Mead National Recreation Area

New Hampshire: Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site

New Jersey: Thomas Edison National Historical Park, Morristown National Historical Park

New Mexico: Aztec Ruins National Monument, Bandelier National Monument, Capulin Volcano National Monument, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Chaco Culture National Historical Park, El Morro National Monument, Fort Union National Monument, Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, Pecos National Historical Park, White Sands National Monument

New York: Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site, Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site, Martin Van Buren National Historic Site, Sagamore Hill National Historic Site, Saratoga National Historical Park, Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site

North Carolina: Wright Brothers National Memorial

North Dakota: Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Ohio: James A. Garfield National Historic Site, Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial National Memorial

Oklahoma: Fort Smith National Historic Site

Oregon: Crater Lake National Park, Lewis & Clark National Historical Park

Pennsylvania: Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site, Fort Necessity National Battlefield, Johnstown Flood National Memorial, Steamtown National Historic Site,

Puerto Rico: San Juan National Historic Site

South Carolina: Fort Sumter National Monument

South Dakota: Badlands National Park, Jewel Cave National Monument

Tennessee: Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park

Texas: Big Bend National Park, Fort Davis National Historic Site, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Padre Island National Seashore

Utah: Arches National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Cedar Breaks National Monument, Dinosaur National Monument, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Golden Spike National Historic Site, Hovenweep National Monument, Natural Bridges National Monument, Zion National Park

Virgin Islands: Christiansted National Historic Site

Virginia: Appomattox Court House National Historical Park, Assateague Island National Seashore, Colonial National Historical Park, George Washington Memorial Parkway’s Great Falls Park, Manassas National Battlefield Park, Petersburg National Battlefield, Prince William Forest Park, Shenandoah National Park

Washington, Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, Lewis & Clark National Historical Park, Mount Rainier National Park, Olympic National Park, Whitman Mission National Historic Site

West Virginia: Harpers Ferry National Historical Park

Wyoming: Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, Devils Tower National Monument, Fort Laramie National Historic Site, Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone National Park

Working Wonders: 5 Natural Wonders in Parks Across the Country

America’s state and national parks contain a lot more than campgrounds and hiking trails. Some are home to really cool natural wonders that draw visitors in from all over. Here’s a list of 5 natural wonders found in parks across the country.

Blue Holes

(Image: floridavacationspots.net)

(Image: floridavacationspots.net)

Blue Holes can be very scary to someone who doesn’t fully understand what they are. Blue holes are basically underwater sinkholes. Usually, the water surrounding blue holes is shallower, causing a beautiful color dynamic. Blue holes are more common outside the United States. The most popular one is the Great Blue Hole located in Belize, which spans 984 feet across and is 407 feet deep!

If you’re looking for blue holes in the U.S., then look no further than Ichetucknee Springs State Park in Florida, also known as Blue Hole Spring at Ichetucknee Springs State Park. The 40 foot hole is one of seven springs at Ichetucknee. According to ExploreSouthernHistory.com, it pours out 26,668 gallons of water per minute. Make sure you take advantage of the swimming and scuba diving opportunities while you’re there!

Old Faithful


(Image: www.destination360.com)

(Image: www.destination360.com)

Old Faithful isn’t Yellowstone National Park’s only geyser, but it’s definitely its most popular.

The geyser erupts every 92 minutes. This time increment, although increasing, hasn’t changed much over the past 100 years. Talk about being faithful! The highest recorded eruption was 185 feet. On average, between 5,000 and 8,000 gallons of water spew out of the geyser. Old Faithful was “discovered” in September of 1870 by members of the Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition. It’s also been said that Old Faithful was used to do laundry. People would place clothing in the crater and once it erupted, the clothes were clean. How crazy is that!

Natural Bridge



Let’s go down south to Kentucky to Natural Bridge State Park Resort. Natural Bridge (the name of the park) houses a natural bridge, the park’s main attraction. The sandstone arch is 78 feet across and 65 feet high. The arch formed over millions of years of weathering. Natural Bridge park is 2,200 acres of forests and nature preserve. The park has 22 miles of trails, a 60-acre lake and two campgrounds. Another one of the most recognizable bridges (or arches) is the Delicate Arch in Arches National Park in Utah.

Niagara Falls


(Image: www.niagarafallswelcomecenter.com)

Did you know Niagara Falls consists of not one but three waterfalls? The waterfalls are Horseshoe Falls, the American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls. Altogether, about 750,000 gallons of water fall over Niagara every second! Bring your family or friends along to dine at the Top of the Falls Restaurant or stand right by the Falls at the Cave of the Winds Tour.

Niagara Falls isn’t all water, though. The park features more than 400 acres of terrain and wildlife. The Niagara Gorge trail system has more than 15 miles of challenging hiking trails to explore the park’s scenic terrain.

Mammoth Cave National Park



If you don’t like enclosed spaces, then you should stop reading here.

Mammoth Cave National Park is the longest cave system known in the world. Yeah, you read that right. Mammoth Cave extends 400 miles underground. If you want to take a tour inside, there are 10 miles of passages available just for that. Visitors can also go on surface hikes, canoe, bike, camp and ride horses.