Literary Links: National Parks

Anne Girouard, Public Services Librarian

“There is nothing so American as our national parks…. The fundamental idea behind the parks…is that the country belongs to the people…for the enrichment of the lives of all of us.”
Franklin Delano Roosevelt

My First Summer in the Sierra

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the National Park Service (NPS), which manages sites throughout the country deemed to be of historic or natural significance. Each year, millions of people from all over the world visit the parks and other areas managed by the NPS, including historic sites, monuments, and seashores. These places contain some of the most unique landscapes and animal life found in the country, and offer affordable vacation options. Surprisingly, these natural wonders have not always been so highly valued in this country. It is thanks to the tireless efforts of early conservationists that these areas are still here for us to enjoy today.

Seed of the Future

In 1868, naturalist author and conservationist John Muir ventured into the region that would one day become Yosemite National Park. Muir documented his experience in “My First Summer in the Sierra” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011). His writings and drawings helped people see their connection to the natural world, which helped spread the conservation movement from which the NPS grew. The library’s updated edition of Muir’s book mixes his drawings with current photos of the spots he visited.

James Mason Hutchings and Frederick Law Olmsted also visited Yosemite and were fascinated by it. Their efforts to preserve the area are captured in Dayton Duncan’s detailed history “Seed of the Future” (Yosemite Conservancy, 2013). History buffs will enjoy the book’s scans of archival documents including the original Yosemite Grant legislation signed by President Abraham Lincoln to protect the land.

Theodore Roosevelt is probably the president most closely associated with the NPS. Fascinated by the geography, plants and animals he came across during his travels, and influenced by the writing of men like Muir, Roosevelt became a strong proponent of conservation. “The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America” (Harper, 2009) by Douglas Brinkley is an insightful biography that explores how Roosevelt’s leadership helped preserve America’s wild places for future generations.

The National Parks: An Illustrated History

Men like Muir, Hutchings, Olmsted and Roosevelt planted a seed. The stories of how that seed grew into the NPS are captured in both “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” (Alfred A. Knopf, 2009) by Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns and “The National Parks: An Illustrated History” (National Geographic, 2016) by Kim Heacox. Duncan and Burns’ book is beautifully illustrated, with photos showing the parks and their visitors from the early days to the present. Heacox’s book, which serves as the official companion to the NPS centennial celebration, captures the history of the park in a collection of the best articles and photos from National Geographic magazine over the decades.

When looking at the history of the NPS, one cannot ignore the pristine landscapes the NPS was able to preserve. “Ansel Adams in the National Parks: Photographs From America’s Wild Places” (Little, Brown, 2010) is a collection of over 200 black and white images the famed photographer took in parks including Yosemite, Mesa Verde and Acadia. Adams was a champion of these wild lands, and his photos illuminate their stark beauty. Ian Shive’s “The National Parks: An American Legacy” (Earth Aware Editions, 2015) is another photo collection of the parks that is worth exploring. Full-color images capture the hues and textures of the parks throughout different seasons.

Your Guide to the National Parks

With 59 national parks, it can be a bit overwhelming to think about where to start planning a trip. Do you want mountain views? Or perhaps the ocean is calling. Or would you prefer miles and miles of forest? The library offers several guidebooks that can help in planning a trip to the parks. “Your Guide to the National Parks” (Stone Road Press, 2012) by Michael Joseph Oswald contains a comprehensive listing of the parks with daily itineraries, maps, hiking guides and listings of ranger-led activities. The “National Geographic Guide to National Parks of the United States” (National Geographic Society, 2016) features the beautiful photography of National Geographic, as well as informative overviews of the parks. The book also offers information on local excursions, which points travelers to natural areas near the parks that are worth visiting. The library also has guidebooks for many of the individual parks.

Missouri State Parks and Historic Sites

If you find nature is beckoning, but a trip to a national park is not possible, don’t forget that Missouri offers an abundance of state parks. “Missouri State Parks and Historic Sites: Exploring Our Legacy” (Missouri Parks Association, 2016) is a stunning visual guide to the history of Missouri’s many state parks and what they have to offer. Also, don’t miss a library program presented by the book’s editor, Susan Flader: “Missouri State Parks and Historic Sites: Challenges for Our Time,” July 18, 7-8:15 pm, in the Friends Room.

Literary Links, compiled by library staff, appears monthly in the Ovation section of the Columbia Daily Tribune. Each article contains a short list of books on a timely topic.
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