A Walk in the Park

The United States is blessed with numerous parks for people to enjoy. There are national parks, state parks, county parks and municipal parks which provide activities ranging from picnic tables to mountain climbing. There truly is something for everyone. We of course like to get out our trusty GPS for geocaching and other stashing activities.

The west gate of Mt. Vernon

Here’s a view of George Washington’s Mt. Vernon estate that most people don’t see. This is the West Gate. In Washington’s day, this was the entrance to Mt. Vernon. All the trees you see were terraces and fields with crops and orchards. Washington rode out here almost every day to take it all in. Today, this view is seen from a quiet residential street intersection in Mt. Vernon, VA. and is not on the official tour. We found out about it – and hunted it down – through a geocache.

The very first national park was Yellowstone National Park which was established March 1, 1872 by President Ulysses S. Grant. The National Park System wasn’t established until August 25, 1916 under President Woodrow Wilson. There are currently 417 areas in the system which cover over 84 million acres in 50 states, the District of Columbia and in US Territories American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Alphabetically the parks range from the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace to Zion National Park. Some of them are very well known such as the Grand Canyon and Yosemite.  Some are much lesser known such as the Natchez Trace or Capulin Volcano. The largest national park is Wrangell-St Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska. It’s bigger than Switzerland. The smallest is Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial in Pennsylvania.

There are only 59 actual National Parks. In addition to them, there are also National Monuments (Mt. Rushmore), National Military Parks (Gettysburg), National Historical Parks (Independence Hall), National Historical Sites (Ford’s Theater), National Historic Landmarks (Fort Bowie), National Historical Trails (The Appalachian Trail) and National Recreation Areas (Glen Canyon). There are a lot more categories, too numerous to mention. What’s the difference? In a word – money. Who gets the most. Who has priority of repairs, maintenance, people, etc. National Parks are at the top of the food chain. National Historic Landmarks get nothing and are usually run by local organizations and volunteers.

In 2017, 331 million people visited all the units run by the NPS. In the last five years – 1½ BILLION.

The National Park Service doesn’t permit traditional container caches in the parks but they will occasionally have one in the office that you have to ask for. You’ll find that out on the geocaching website. There are virtual caches, photo caches,  webcam caches, earth caches and waymarks which are equally challenging. They have the added benefits of being informative and educational. Benchmarks abound in these areas. There are also geodashing points, where you can end up literally in the middle of nowhere. All these things will take you to parts of the park that are off the beaten path.

State, county and municipal parks are not so strict. With the explosive growth of geocaching in the last several years, it’s hard to find a park anywhere that doesn’t have at least one geocache in it. Even the tiny memorial parks have them. Many of these caches are quick park ‘n’ grabs but many will also take you as far in the wild as you want to go. We’ve canoed to several caches and rode on horseback to a cache in Butch Cassidy’s Hole-in-the-Wall in Wyoming. Historical markers abound in these parks and often the geocaches are designed around them. It’s a great way to explore and learn.

Geocaching and related activities have taken us to some of the most interesting and beautiful out-of-the-way places in this country. It remains an unregulated activity which relies upon the participants to respect and protect the environment in which the caches are located. Please do your part to help preserve it for others to enjoy.

Cheers … Boris and Natasha

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