Preserving our national treasures
Preserving our national treasures
Happy day after Earth Day to you. I hope you had a very earthy day for the 40th anniversary celebration.
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar took advantage of the day to announce free admission to national parks and wildlife refuges for June 5-6, Aug. 14-15 and Sept. 25, which is National Public Lands Day.
While the announcement was timed to coincide with Earth Day, it is also being hailed as a celebration of the launch of President Barack Obama's America's Great Outdoors initiative, which was announced a week ago.
The dates in June, August and September are in addition to National Park Week, which began Monday and concludes Sunday.
There is only one national park and two wildlife refuges in the Green Mountain State — none of the three charges access fees.
In addition, there are other national wildlife refuges and national parks in surrounding states with many beautiful destinations in New York, New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts.
Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park in Woodstock begins its program season May 29. But access to the grounds for hiking, bird watching and other recreation is free.
Neither the Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge in northwest Vermont or the Silvio O. Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge, which is along the Connecticut River Valley of Vermont, has access fees either.
The Missisquoi NWR offers a variety of activities throughout the year in addition to season activities like hunting, fishing and skiing.
The year-round offerings include nature walks, boat tours, wildlife watching and photography opportunities, in addition to presentations and special events that are scheduled throughout the year.
The Silvio O. Conte NWR isn't a refuge in the traditional sense of the term. Instead of an identifiable land mass with distinct borders, the Silvio O. Conte is actually a collection of seven small tracts of land and two large tracts encompassing the 7.2-million-acre Connecticut River watershed in the states of Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut.
Vermont's areas include 278 acres in Putney and 26,000 acres in Essex County.
Because the refuge is scattered along the length of the river, nearly every type of recreation imaginable is available but hiking, photography, wildlife watching and birding are among the more popular activities.
The Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park also offers a variety of activities despite the fact that the park's season doesn't begin until Memorial Day weekend.
Until it officially opens for the season, however, there is plenty of room for hiking, horseback riding, wildflower walks, wildlife viewing, photography and bird watching.
Tim Maguire, chief ranger at Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller, said the wildflowers are really starting to pop and the mud seems to have come and gone at the park, making it a perfect mud-season destination.
"Hiking is your best bet and mud season is pretty much over," Maguire said. "The trails have pretty much dried out. It's actually a nice time to come look at the wildflowers."
A 14-acre pond offers photographic opportunity or just a great setting for a nice walk and a good opportunity for some bird watching.
"We've got a lot of warblers coming in from the south," Maguire said.
The park is not open to motorized transportation or bicycles on its 9 miles of carriage roads and 20 miles of hiking trails and roads on the property. Dogs on a leash are welcome.
Park at the Billings Farm and Museum across the road.
Whether you choose one of the three Vermont sites, or decide to travel out of state, the free weekends will present several opportunities to visit parks and refuges over the course of the summer and are an opportunity that might spur people to take advantage of these great historic and scenic locations.
"President Obama has made connecting Americans to the outdoors and our history a fundamental goal of the conservation initiative announced at (the April 16) White House Conference on America's Great Outdoors," Salazar said in a release. "What better way to celebrate this Earth Day than to make it easier for all Americans to experience the breathtaking landscapes, amazing creatures, and the stories that make up our shared heritage. By getting outdoors, we remind ourselves of our blessings and of the responsibility we all have to pass these lands on to our children and our grandchildren."
Love him or hate him, Obama has stepped up for the outdoors recently.
In his proclamation declaring National Park Week, Obama wrote:
"As a Nation, we have a responsibility to protect America's natural resources and noteworthy landmarks. … By visiting them, we can reflect on our shared history and vision for the future. … Only by conserving our natural treasures can we share their wonder with our children and grandchildren."
And that is a great goal.