Ebony Escapes! through the amazing National Park System

Lysa Allman-Badwin | 8/8/2013, 10:29 a.m. | Updated on 8/8/2013, 10:29 a.m.
Blue Ridge Parkway

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is where our former president transformed from a naïve, scrawny teenager to an enlightened, beefy, mentally and physically strong man—in large part because of his experiences in this once harsh landscape in Medora (the South Unit) and Watford City (the North Unit), N.D. www.nps.gov/thro/index.htm

In Copper Center, Ala., you will find America’s largest national park, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, encompassing13.2 million acres and the 18,008-feet-high Mount St. Elias, one of the tallest peaks in North America. www.nps.gov/wrst/index.htm

Located in Homestead, Fla., Everglades National Park is the largest subtropical wilderness in the country; its wildlife encompass a wide array of endangered and rare species, including the Florida panther, the American crocodile and the manatee. www.nps.gov/ever/index.htm

Joshua Tree National Park in Twentynine Palms, Calif., is highlighted by a landscape in which the western half marks the southern tip of the Mojave Desert, and the eastern half marks one of the westernmost tips of the Sonoran Desert, both possessing distinct desert ecosystems. www.nps.gov/jotr/index.htm

Situated at the southern tip of the Northern Boreal Forest in International Falls, Minn., Voyageurs National Park, regarded as “The Heart of the Continent,” is highlighted by a distinctive landscape formed by mountains, earthquakes and volcanic activity, and is where a series of interconnected waterways flow west then eventually north as part of the Hudson Bay arctic watershed. www.nps.gov/voya/index.htm

“National Parks: America’s Best Idea”

Documentary filmmakers Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan got it right when they created National Parks: America’s Best Idea, a six-part series on PBS (which also featured Ranger Johnson), which they say is “a story of people—people from every conceivable background: rich and poor; famous and unknown; soldiers and scientists; natives and newcomers; idealists, artists and entrepreneurs; people who were willing to devote themselves to saving some precious portion of the land they loved and, in doing so, reminded their fellow citizens of the full meaning of democracy.”

Just by looking at the numbers alone, one can see just how vast and amazing this system is: 13 national parks; some 7,529,549 visitors last year alone; 1,462 National Register of Historic Places listings; 24 National Historic Landmarks; 17 National Natural Landmarks; and 275,330 hours donated by volunteers.

African-Americans history in the National Park System runs deep, extending far beyond the magnificent landscapes of the national parks themselves. There are numerous exciting and historic entities which also make up part of the National Park System. Here are few to check out as you travel both in your own backyard and further afield:

Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail (www.nps.gov/semo/index.htm)

George Washington Birthplace National Monument (www.nps.gov/gewa/bowden&history.htm)

Fort Donelson National Battlefield (www.nps.gov/fodo/indepth/af-am.htm)

New Orleans Jazz National Historic Site (www.nps.gov/neor)

Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site (www.nps.gov/brvb/home.htm)

Guadalupe Mountains National Park (www.nps.gov/gumo/gumo/history.html)

Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial (www.nps.gov/poch/index.htm)

San Francisco Maritime Park (www.nps.gov/safr/local/afamer.html)

Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historic Park (www.nps.gov/daav/)

Lysa Allman-Baldwin writes for numerous online and print publications, including as the cultural travel writer for www.examiner.com and as a senior travel writer for www.soulofamerica.com, an Afrocentric travel website. Lysa can be reached at lallmanbaldwin@kc.rr.com.

Resource List

African-American authors Audrey and Frank Peterman


African-American history and locations of interest within the National Park System


“Hidden Gems of the National Park System,” a special 32-page section published in the May/June edition of Country magazine highlighting its top 10 most breathtaking, off-the-beaten-path parks across the country


National Park guidebooks to Acadia, Joshua Tree, Yosemite and the Grand Canyon by award-winning travel writer, photographer and publisher James Kaiser