Some 50 years ago, I set an ambitious lifetime goal for myself — to visit every unit of the National Park Service, 423 of them by the latest count. I wouldn’t just drive through them to gaze at their waterfalls, mountain peaks and other features, but I’d also walk their trails, canoe their streams, explore their historic structures — even ramble through their visitors’ centers.
The park units, of course, are a diverse lot. They range from a few acres to millions of acres in size. They include our familiar national parks such as Yellowstone and the Everglades, but also encompass national monuments, national historic sites, national battlefields, national seashores, national recreation areas and on and on. No matter their title or purpose, though, they’re all referred to as “national parks.”
So far, I’ve made it to 336 of them — and, even though I’m now in my late 70s, I still hope to visit all 423. It’s questionable, though, if I ever will ever get to some of the remotest, most far-flung parks still on my bucket list — such as Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in Alaska or the American Samoa National Park.
Why go? Mystery writer Nevada Barr, a former park ranger whose novels are set in national parks, summed up the feelings of many park lovers in Sierra Club Magazine: “Our parks are the home of our wildness, our pioneer spirit. Seeing them we know we can do much, go far, withstand the harshest punishment. We know we can make it; we can survive and thrive and flourish.”
Not surprisingly, I long ago achieved a part of my ultimate goal — visiting all of the national parks in Georgia. Actually, I’ve visited them several times, but never get tired of them. They are:
— Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, where in 1863 Union and Confederate forces fought for control of Chattanooga, the “Gateway to the Deep South.”
— Kennesaw National Battlefield Park, which preserves a Civil War battlefield of Sherman’s 1864 Atlanta campaign.
— Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, whose 14 units stretch like an emerald necklace 48 miles downriver from Buford Dam.
— Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park, which tells the life story of the revered civil rights leader.
— Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park, featuring prehistoric American Indian sites.
— Andersonville National Historic Site, home of the notorious Camp Sumter, the largest Confederate military prison during the Civil War.
— Jimmy Carter National Historical Park, which includes Plains, the former president’s hometown, and his boyhood home and farm.
— Cumberland Island National Seashore, a stunningly beautiful, history-rich barrier island off Georgia’s coast.
— Fort Frederica National Monument, archaeological remains of an early British settlement.
— Fort Pulaski National Monument, which for most of the 19th Century helped protect the coast from overseas enemies.
In addition, an important section of the park service’s Appalachian National Scenic Trail lies in North Georgia. Also running through the state is part of another unit, the Trail of Tears National Historical Trail, which commemorates the Cherokee people who were forcibly removed from Georgia.