National Park Service News

News from the Parks | December 2019

By Jason Epperson

Welcome to the December 2019’s “News From the Parks,” our new monthly series where we round up for you the latest info about happenings in America’s Greatest treasures.


Welcome our 62nd Park:

It’s official: The United States now boasts 62 congressionally designated National Parks. New Mexico’s White Sands National Monument became White Sands National Park. On Friday, December 20, the President signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, which includes a provision that re-designates White Sands. White Sands National Monument was established on January 18, 1933, by President Herbert Hoover. In addition to containing the world’s largest gypsum dunefield, the park is home to the globe’s largest collection of Ice-Age fossilized footprints.

Entrance Fees on the Rise:

Entrance fees and individual park annual passes are set to increase at many parks across the nation on January 1, including White Sands where an annual pass will go up from $40 to $45. Most seven-day vehicle passes to enter national parks will be increased by $5 or $10. The increase was first proposed back in 2017.165 National Park Service sites charge an entrance fee; the other 254 national parks remain free to enter.

The nationwide America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass and Lifetime Senior Pass will remain $80 in 2020. The Access Pass for people with disabilities remains free. For a breakdown of all the annual pass options, check out our “National Park Passes Explained” video on the RV Miles YouTube Channel. We’ll provide a link in the show notes.

2020 Fee Free Days:

The Park Service has also announced fee-free days for 2020:
January 20 – Martin Luther King Jr. Day
April 18 – First Day of National Park Week/National Junior Ranger Day
August 25 – National Park Service Birthday
September 26 – National Public Lands Day
November 11 – Veterans Day

A Grave and Immediate Threat:

America’s national parks are facing a grave and immediate threat: invasive animal species.

The National Park Service has asked a group of experts to help chart a course to handle the problem of invasive species, and those findings were recently published in the journal Biological Invasions. Invasive animal species can be found in more than half of all national parks. Of the 1,409 reported populations of 311 separate invasive animal species, there are management plans for 23 percent and only 11 percent are being contained. They include mammals, such as rats, cats, and feral pigs; aquatic species like lake trout, and reptiles like the Burmese python in Everglades National Park where pythons that can reach 23 feet in length were found thriving and reproducing twenty years ago. The result has been huge declines in native mammals.

Currently, the National Park Service has no comprehensive program to reverse or halt the trend of invasive species, but the study was a first step towards a national strategy.

Assisting Wildfire’s Abroad

The United States is sending 21 wildland fire personnel from the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Forest Service to assist in fighting the devastating wildfires currenty plaguing Australia. About 100 fires have been burning for weeks in drought-plagued New South Wales, with half of them uncontained, including a “mega-blaze” ringing Sydney, covering Australia’s biggest city in a haze of toxic smoke.

An extended drought combined with hot and dry weather conditions have elevated wildfire risk, and fire activity is expected to continue for the next several months.

Human Remains Found at Joshua Tree:

On Thursday morning, December 19th, authorities at Joshua Tree National Park were alerted of evidence of skeletal human remains found while analyzing photographs of the park taken last summer. The discovery is in a remote, rocky, steep location away from any trails.

Law enforcement rangers hiked to the reported location where they found the remains, along with the belongings of the victims. There was no personal identification with the remains, which appear to have been in that location for some time. An investigation is currently ongoing, led by National Park Service law enforcement and San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department investigators. At this time, the identity of the bodies has not been confirmed, and the manner of death is undetermined. There are no initial indicators of foul play.

National Park Service Seeks Public Assistance:

The National Park Service is seeking the public’s assistance to develop a list of national park lands that would benefit from new or increased access routes. The Park Service and other federal land management agencies are developing a priority list of lands with no or restricted public access. These lists will help the park service priortitize future access projects such as roads and trails.

Public comments will be accepted through January 4, 2020, on the Park Service’s Planning, Environmental and Public Comments website.

Dark Skies at El Morro:

The International Dark Sky Association has named New Mexico’s El Morro National Monument as an International Dark Sky Park. The certification recognizes the exceptional quality of the park’s night skies and provides added opportunities to enhance visitor experiences through astronomy based interpretive programming.

International Dark Sky Park certification promotes public education and astronomy based recreation in parks while improving energy efficiency and reduced operational costs through outdoor lighting upgrades.

The International Dark Sky Places Program was founded in 2001 to encourage communities, parks, and protected areas around the world to preserve and protect dark sites through responsible lighting polices and public education. El Morro National Monument now joins more than 100 locations that have followed a rigorous application process that demonstrates robust community support for dark sky certification.

El Morro National Monument features one of the most impressive and accessible records of Southwest history, which is exposed on a single rock. Inscription Rock, a sandstone promontory rising 200 feet from the valley floor has more than 2,000 inscriptions and petroglyphs of many cultures along its sheer cliff face. Monument visitors can gaze upon original markings of pueblo residents, Spanish explorers, early surveyors, and pioneers in symbols, signatures, poetry, and prose right where they were originally carved.

Protecting The Narrows at Zion:

The iconic Narrows Trail at Zion National Park, is now permanently protected from closure and development. The route follows the Virgin River into a deep slot canyon with sculpted sandstone walls soaring more than a thousand feet overhead. For much of the 16-mile trek, the canyon is so narrow that hikers are literally immersed in the river, with nowhere to walk but in the rocky streambed itself.

Part of the route has always crossed private land. Public access to the Narrows has depended on informal agreements with local landowners. The Trust for Public Land has guaranteed public access to both private properties forever. They won a conservation easement for the Simon Gulch ranch, guaranteeing permanent public access to the last at-risk section of the Narrows Trail.

Internation National Park News:

In International National Park news, beginning on Jan. 1, 2020, foreign and national tourists who visit many of Costa Rica’s national parks will be covered by an insurance policy. It’s a new way to help convince tourists to follow the rules through positive reenforcement. Visitors who enter the national parks through the official entrances and adhere to posted rules will be covered in case of injury or death. Vehicles parked in official lots will also be covered for damage or theft.

The insurance policy will be automatically included in the price of the ticket for all visitors. The parks will also improve signage throughout protected areas in order to adequately inform visitors of the areas they may or may not visit within the park, and if rules are not adhered to, the tourist will be at their own risk.

A New NPS TV Drama:

Last month we told you about a new TV drama in development about National Park Service rangers, well now, there’s another. Kevin Costner is developing a one-hour drama titled ISB that will focus on the Park Service’s Investigative Services Branch for ABC. ISB will follow elite special agents who end up having to solve some of the most complex and heinous crimes committed within the National Parks of the ISB’s Pacific West region.

A National Park-themed Bar:

Nashville Tennessee is about to get a National Park-themed bar. It’s called “Camp,” and it will feature a national park-inspired setting involving indoor trees, boulders, a fish tank, and elaborate drinks, including cocktails served in terrariums named after 10 different parks. Drinks will come with pamphlets featuring information about the corresponding park. At month’s end, the bar will donate to each park according to number of each drink sold.

Happy Birthday to Sleeping Bear:

Finally, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2020. The park is planning a year of honoring the past, celebrating today, and planning for the future, starting with a kick-off celebration on Saturday, January 18.

Sleeping Bear Dunes hugs the northeast shore of Lake Michigan. The park is known for the huge scalable dunes of the Dune Climb and its two islands, beaches, farmsteads, and forests.


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Today’s show was sponsored by L.L.Bean, follow the hashtag #BeanOutsider, and visit LLBean.com to find great gear for exploring the National Parks.

Podcast Episodes

Valley Forge

This episode of America’s National Parks was hosted and written by Jason Epperson, with narration from Abigail Trabue.

Listen below, or on any podcast app:


On December 19, 1777, 12,000 weary revolutionary war soldiers and 400 women and children marched into what would be their winter encampment. They began to build what was essentially the fourth largest city in the United States, with 1,500 log huts and two miles of fortifications. Lasting six months, from December until June, the encampment was as diverse as any city, with people who were free and enslaved, wealthy and impoverished, speakers of several languages, and adherents of multiple religions. Concentrating the soldiers in one vast camp changed the face of the conflict, leading to the long-fought independence the colonies so desired. 

American Indians occupied the area in and around what is now known as Valley Forge National Historical Park over 10,000 years ago, enjoying the abundance of food and shelter offered by the river valley. Europeans began to settle the region in the late 17th century and gradually displaced the indigenous people. 

The land was cleared for agriculture, and 18 landowners established fairly prosperous farms on the choice agricultural soils. Along Valley Creek, an ironworks named Valley Forge was established, and a small industrial village, including charcoal houses, a sawmill, grist mill, and company store grew up around it.

The slopes of Mounts Joy and Misery were wooded and were frequently cut over to supply wood to fuel the iron forge. By the time of the soldiers arrived during the Revolutionary War, it was an open, rolling landscape divided into many small fields and pastures by fences and hedgerows. Woodlands and charcoal hearths blanketed the mountains, and there was a smattering of structures in what was now the Village of Valley Forge. The forges themselves laid ruined—burned during a raid by the British three months earlier.

It’s perhaps American legend that a rag-tag team of misfit militias defeated the King’s Army, but in reality, the war was a massive, multi-national conflict, and the colonies needed to build a traditional military to force the British from America. 


By the time of Valley Forge, most Americans realized that the Revolution would be a long, drawn-out affair. The nature of the war changed in July 1776 when a large contingent of troops reached America’s shores and sought to crush the rebellion. By the fall, the British had pushed

George Washington’s unevenly trained and outnumbered force to the brink of defeat and established control over New York City and the states of New York and New Jersey. Only Washington’s bold Christmas night 1776 crossing of the Delaware River and subsequent victories at Trenton and Princeton, New Jersey, saved the cause from disaster.

In order to put the Army on firmer footing, the Continental Congress allowed George Washington to recruit soldiers for longer enlistments, beginning in 1777. The men of this establishment formed the bulk of the professional force that would fight the rest of the war. After wintering at their stronghold in Morristown, New Jersey, Washington’s forces prepared to meet the British with renewed zeal in the spring of 1777.

British strategy for the third year of the American Revolution included a plan to capture the patriot capital at Philadelphia. To accomplish this objective, the British Commander-in-Chief, Sir William Howe, set sail from New York City in July 1777 with nearly 17,000 of His Majesty’s finest troop. The expeditionary force landed at the head of the Chesapeake Bay. 

To oppose Howe, General Washington marched his 12,000-man Army from New Jersey. On the journey south, He paraded them through Philadelphia to impress citizens with the prowess of the patriot force. No longer a rag-tag bunch of inexperienced fighters, the Continental Army was battle-tested and capable of standing up to the British. One observer of the march stated that the men, “though indifferently dressed, held well-burnished arms, and carried them like soldiers; and looked, in short, as if they might have faced an equal number with a reasonable prospect of success.”

In the two key battles of the Philadelphia campaign, Brandywine and Germantown, the Americans fought with skill and courage. Though they lost both battles, as well as the capital at Philadelphia, the Continental Army emerged from these experiences with the confidence of an underdog sports team that had thrown a scare into the champion:

“The experience has served to convince our people, that when they make an attack, they can confuse and Rout even the Flower of the British Army, with the greatest ease, and they are not that invincible Body of Men, which many suppose them to be.”

-George Washington

Yet work remained to be done. The Army had difficulty executing complex large- scale maneuvers such as the orderly retreat. As a result, retreats could turn into panicked flights. In fact, General Nathanael Greene believed that the troops had “fled from victory” at Germantown. 

As the campaign wound down through the months of November and December, Washington maintained strong offensive pressure on the British in the city. With the British ensconced in Philadelphia, Washington and his general officers had to decide where to encamp for the winter. As he chose a site, he had to balance the congressional wish for a winter campaign to dislodge the British from the capital against the needs of his weary and poorly supplied Army. By December 12, Washington made his decision to encamp at Valley Forge. 

From this location 18 miles northwest of Philadelphia, Washington was close enough to maintain pressure on the enemy, yet far enough to prevent a surprise attack on his own troops. From here, the Continental Army could protect the outlying parts of the state, with its wary citizens and precious military stores, as well as the Continental Congress, which had fled to York, Pennsylvania.

Washington and his men marched into camp on December 19, 1777. The soldiers, while not well supplied, were not downtrodden. They exuded the confidence of men who knew that they had come close to beating the British in battle. They were cautiously optimistic about the future and resigned themselves to the task of establishing their winter quarters.

The romantic image that depicts the troops at Valley Forge as helpless and famished, at the mercy of winter’s fury and clothed in nothing but rags, renders them and their commander a disservice, but constant freezing and thawing, and intermittent snowfall and rain, coupled with shortages of provisions, clothing, and shoes, did make living conditions extremely difficult. Rather than wait for rescue, the Army procured supplies, built log cabins to stay in, constructed makeshift clothing and gear, and cooked hearty meals. 

During the early months of the encampment, the soldiers received an average daily ration of one-half pound of beef. But by February, they went without meat for several days at a time. In early March, the Army listed 3,000 men as unfit for duty due to a lack of proper clothing. 

One of the most immediate remedies against the weather and lack of clothing was the construction of log shelters. Valley Forge was the first winter encampment where many thousands of soldiers had to build their own huts. The officers formed them into construction squads and instructed them to build cabins according to a 14-foot by 16-foot model. The Army placed the 2,000-odd huts in parallel lines, and according to one officer, the camp “had the appearance of a little city” when viewed from a distance. Most agreed that their log accommodations were “tolerably comfortable.”

In addition to the huts, miles of trenches were constructed, five earthen forts, and a bridge based on a Roman design over the Schuylkill River. The picture of the encampment that emerges from the army records and the soldiers’ own writing is that of a skilled and capable force in charge of its own destiny.

Once the bridge spanning the river was complete, the Army made full use of the land on the other side as a vital supply link. The farms located on the north side could sell their produce to the Army. The bridge connection also made the camp more secure as patrols could range the country to the north and east to check British movements and intentions in that quarter.

But establishing a winter base so close to the enemy caused additional hardship. Instead of being able to focus on building the camp and obtaining much-needed rest, the troops had to expend energy on security operations. They spent extra-long shifts on duty patrolling, standing guard, and manning dangerous outposts. Washington recognized the strain that this situation placed on his men and rewarded them with two months’ hardship pay.

Perhaps the most notable suffering that occurred at Valley Forge came from a factor that is not frequently mentioned in textbooks: disease was the true scourge of the camp. Men from far-flung geographical areas were exposed to sicknesses from which they had little immunity. During the encampment, nearly 2,000 men died of disease. Dedicated surgeons, nurses, a smallpox inoculation program, and camp sanitation regulations limited the death tolls. The Army kept monthly status reports that tracked the number of soldiers who had died or were too sick to perform their duties. These reports reveal that two-thirds of the men who perished died not during the harsh winter, but during the warmer months of March, April, and May, when supplies were more abundant. The most common killers were influenza, typhus, typhoid, and dysentery.

The scale of the Valley Forge encampment was impressive. The number of soldiers present ranged from 12,000 in December to nearly 20,000 in late spring as the Army massed for the campaign season. The troops who came to camp included men from all 13 original colonies and regiments from all of them except South Carolina and Georgia. The encampment brought together men, women, and children of nearly all ages, from all walks of life, of every occupation, from different ethnic backgrounds, and of various religions. The women included approximately 400 enlisted men’s wives who followed the Army year-round and a few general officers’ wives who came on extended visits. 

Valley Forge was demographically, militarily, and politically an important crossroads in the Revolutionary War. A mix of motives was at play, particularly in the minds of men who enlisted in early 1777. Some of served out of patriotism, but many served for profit, or for individual liberty, as in the case of enslaved, indentured, and apprenticed people. Others were coerced, as most colonies introduced conscription that year.

The participants had different values and different ideas about what words such as liberty, equality, slavery, and freedom meant. The ideals held dear by Americans today were not forged at Valley Forge, but rather contested – not just between patriots and the British – but also among different Americans. Valley Forge and the Revolution put the United States on a long road to defining those ideals in ways satisfactory to all – a process still in the making.

Despite the difficulties, the continental Army matured into a professional force at Valley Forge under the tutelage of Friedrich Wilhelm Baron von Steuben. Baron von Steuben assessed the Army and recognized that Washington’s men needed more training and discipline. At the same time, he realized that American soldiers would not submit to harsh European-style regulation. He did not try to introduce the entire system of drill, evolutions, maneuvers, discipline, tactics, and formations into our Army. “I should have been pelted had I attempted it, and should inevitably have failed,” he said. Instead, von Steuben demonstrated to the men the positive results that would come from retraining. He provided hands-on lessons, and Washington’s independent-minded combat veterans were willing to learn new skills when they saw immediate results. As spring wore on, whole brigades marched with newfound precision and crisply executed commands.

The Commander-in-Chief’s professional reputation also got a boost at Valley Forge. Two events that occurred during the encampment strengthened George Washington’s authority. The first was the emergence of a group of critics who denigrated General Washington’s leadership ability. The proponents of this movement, which became known as the Conway Cabal, suggested that General Gates, the victorious leader at the Battle of Saratoga, was perhaps more fit for the top command. This splinter group of officers and congressmen blamed Washington for having lost the capital to the British and argued that he put the war effort in jeopardy. As winter wore on, the so-called cabal dissolved, bringing disgrace to and ending the careers of several of its leaders. Washington’s authority was strengthened as loyal supporters rallied to defend and exalt the Commander-in-Chief.

A second event that consolidated Washington’s control was his successful campaign to have a congressional committee visit camp. The general lobbied Congress to confer with him in person in order to resolve some of the supply and organizational difficulties that had plagued the Army during the 1777 campaign. The committee emerged from the Valley Forge meeting with a better understanding of the logistical difficulties Washington faced and more sympathetic to the Army’s requirements. The army reorganization was one of the most far-reaching consequences of the committee’s work. Almost from the war’s outset, Washington had argued for a large professional army. The public’s disdain for standing armies limited his ability to raise a sizeable force. The reorganization of 1778 represented a compromise between civilian and military ideals. Realizing that the Army existed at only a portion of its authorized strength, Congress consolidated regiments and created a more streamlined force. 

At Valley Forge in the spring of 1778, the Army joyously celebrated the formal French recognition of the United States as a sovereign power and valuable alliance with this leading European nation. Though it would take years to bear fruit at Yorktown in 1781, the alliance provided Washington with the formidable French naval assistance and additional troops he needed to counter British marine superiority.

In mid-June, Washington’s spy network informed him that the British were about to abandon Philadelphia. The Commander-in-Chief rapidly set troops in motion: a small force marched in and took possession of the city. The majority of the Army swiftly advanced from staging areas on the north side of the Schuylkill River and southeast of camp toward the Delaware River and New Jersey. On June 28, at the Battle of Monmouth, New Jersey, Washington’s men demonstrated their new battlefield skills, as they forced the British from the field. Monmouth hurt the British in the short term and provided the Americans with a long-term boost in confidence.

Washington could claim that the war effort was going well. The Army’s decision to occupy Valley Forge and maintain strong offensive pressure on the enemy was a wise one. After they abandoned Philadelphia, the British had little to show for all of their past year’s efforts.

Thanks to the contributions of von Steuben and others, the Continental Army was more unified than ever before.


Many regard Valley Forge as the birthplace of the American Army. The concepts of basic training, the professionalization of the officer corps, and the rise of the Army’s distinctive branches, such as the corps of engineers, all got their start here. The symbolic importance that Americans have attached to Valley Forge both complicates and enriches its authentic history. The establishment of Valley Forge as a memorial provides a place where generations of Americans have had the opportunity to discover and admire the Continental Army’s sacrifices and achievements and to participate in commemoration of this history. 

The 3,500-acres of monuments, meadows, and woodlands honor and celebrate the ability of citizens to pull together and overcome adversity during extraordinary times. 

Valley Forge National Historical Park is located just 18 miles west of Center City Philadelphia and is easily accessible from New York City, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. Here you can step back in time and re-live that winter of 1777 and 1778. 

The Muhlenberg Brigade Area is the site of a brigade encampment led by General Peter Muhlenberg. Consisting of nine log cabins called huts, facing a gravel company street. This is the main site for Valley Forge’s Living History program. Rangers and volunteers dress in 18th Century attire to show visitors glimpses of life at the Valley Forge encampment.

The Artillery Park Commemorates the cannon batteries led by General Knox with three rows of cannons and is a great place to get a long-distance view of the National Memorial Arch – erected to commemorate the arrival of General George Washington and his Continental Army.

Washington’s headquarters, also known as the Isaac Potts House, has the distinction of being the structure General Washington used as his headquarters during the encampment.

On December 14, 2018, the National Park Service opened a new 5,760 square-foot Visitor Center within the park. This new, temporary facility will enable construction to begin on a $12 million renovation to the current Visitor Center (built in 1976).

On Thursday, December 19, visitors can witness a reenactment of the March-In of the Continental Army.

This annual event is a full evening of festivities at Valley Forge. Take a candlelit walk to the Muhlenberg Brigade huts, encounter reenactors at a living Continental camp, meet George Washington, and enjoy eighteenth-century music. Warm-up in the Visitor Center with holiday drinks and treats, see historic chocolate making, and more.


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For more great American destinations, give us a listen at our new See America podcast, wherever you listen to this one.
If you are interested in RV travel, find us at the RV Miles Podcast. You can also follow Abigail and me as we travel the country with our three boys at Our Wandering FamilyParagraph

Today’s show was sponsored by L.L.Bean, follow the hashtag #beanoutsider, and visit LLBean.com to find great gear for exploring the National Parks.

Podcast Episodes

The Legacy of Three Million

This episode of America’s National Parks was hosted by Jason Epperson, with narration from Abigail Trabue. The bulk of the text was written by retired Forest Service Historian Gerald W. Williams with additions by Historian Aaron Shapiro.

Listen below, or on any podcast app:


If you’ve spent any amount of time in National or State parks in the U.S., you’ve probably been in a building built by a federal program that employed nearly 3 million people during the most difficult economic time in our country’s history. Their work constructed trails and shelters in more than 800 state and national parks. They built wildlife refuges, fisheries, water storage basins, and animal shelters. They built bridges and campground facilities, many of which are still in use today.

The 1920s were a decade of unprecedented growth, prosperity, and social change in the U.S. The rise of the inexpensive, mass-produced automobile allowed millions to explore new highways and byways. Farm people flocked to cities to pursue jobs on the production line. Credit expanded, allowing many wage earners to purchase products without ready cash. Stock market
speculation, especially through a system of easy credit, was on the rise.

Yet mounting inflation began to erode worker purchasing power, and wage increases. At the same time, the nation stepped back from the international scene through a policy of isolationism, exemplified most prominently by Congress’ refusal to ratify the League of Nations pact.

When the stock market crashed in the fall of 1929, the things that marked 1920s growth contributed to a long and depressed economy in the 1930s.

When the depression hit, the demand for products and thus their need for production fell sharply. City dwellers increasingly found themselves unemployed. Farmers suffered through severe droughts, Dust Bowl storms, and restricted credit, often losing their land. Debts piled up, and savings disappeared. Banks limited remaining credit, recalled loans and foreclosed on mortgages. In addition, because fewer people lived and worked directly on the land, city people could not fall back on the barter system for the exchange of food and shelter.

Without a cash or credit income, the economy fell to an unprecedented low. By late 1932 over 13 million Americans, about one-third of the workforce were out of jobs. People had nothing to do, nowhere to go, and felt hungry, bewildered, apathetic, and angry. Young people were particularly vulnerable and had little hope for the future, given that they found themselves untrained, unskilled, unable to gain work experience, and lacking adequate education.

The stock market crash virtually eliminated the credit system, personal and family savings, and long-term capital expenditures by industry. Consumer demand was sharply reduced, devastating confidence along with much of the business structure. The final straw for many came when a large number of banks and financial institutions, having demanded loan repayments from people who had no money, went bankrupt. The almost total collapse of the nation’s financial structure demolished the public confidence that existed in the 1920s.

President Herbert Hoover attempted to remedy the crisis but to little avail. Despite the fact that he was not directly responsible for the depression, he became a scapegoat. Re-nominated by the Republicans in 1932, the condition of the national economy soured his chances for re-election. The Democrats nominated Franklin Delano Roosevelt, then governor of New York. FDR looked to create a federal program to intervene in the public and private sectors that would create a “new deal.” He campaigned on the basic economic and social issues that were at the very heart of the depression, and he prevailed in a landslide.

Roosevelt took office on March 4, 1933, and his inaugural speech helped change the country’s attitude to one of careful optimism. His first official act as President was to declare a bank holiday on March 6 to allow time for the Treasury Department to check the stability of each bank before reopening. Thus began the “Hundred Days” in which the President, with the consent of Congress, produced much of the legislation that formed the body of the New Deal.

On March 21, 1933, FDR sent a message to Congress stating that he wanted to establish a new forestry relief agency: “I propose to create a Civilian Conservation Corps to be used in simple work, not interfering with normal employment, and confining itself to forestry, the prevention of soil erosion, flood control, and similar projects. I call your attention to the fact that this type of work is of definite, practical value, not only through the prevention of great present financial loss but also as a means of creating future national wealth.”

Congress acted quickly, passing a bill authorizing the President to act on his proposed back-to-work forestry program. On April 5, 1933, FDR signed Executive Order 6101 which officially established the Emergency Conservation Work Program.

The initial selection of men for CCC camps began just four days after the signing of the Executive Order, with the first camp established ten days later. This first CCC camp, near Luray, Virginia in the George Washington National Forest, was named Camp Roosevelt. In early June, a peak of almost 14,000 men per day were selected and assigned to nearly 1,300 CCC camps across the nation. By July 1, 1933, three months into the program, the six-month enrollment quota of almost 275,000 was reached. That’d be one of the country’s largest employers, even today.

The CCC represented a significant departure from older work relief efforts that relied on private or small public efforts for those without jobs. The CCC was designed to “give each man some sense of his duties as a citizen in American Society.” It provided unemployed young men with work in the nation’s forests, parks, and rangelands. It became one of the most successful of New Deal back-to-work programs.

The idea for the CCC originated from FDR’s involvement with the Boy Scouts. The Scouts promoted the idea that social behavior could be shaped by manipulating one’s physical surroundings or environment. Like the Scouts, the CCC brought young men from what many viewed as diseased urban settings struggling through the depression and placed them in healthful environments in nature.

The CCC program had two main objectives. The first was to find immediate and useful conservation work for hundreds of thousands of unemployed young men. The other, as specified in law in 1937, was to provide vocational training, and later educational training, for enrollees. Enlistment lasted six months with an option of re-enrolling for additional six month periods for a maximum of two years. Men were paid a dollar a day, with $25.00 per month sent home to their dependents, usually their parents. Remaining funds could be spent at the camp canteen or for other personal expenses. The government provided the enrollees with room, board, clothing, and transportation.

Four distinct categories of enrollees existed. Most numerous were the young men, or Juniors, between the ages of 18 and 25. The Junior enrollee had to be single and pass a physical examination. Juniors comprised about 85 percent of CCC enrollment.

Another group was the Local Experienced Men, LEM for short. This group served as project leaders in the Junior camps. These men were hired from local communities and were often previously employed in outdoor or woods work. They could be married and were allowed to live at home if the camp was nearby, and there were no age restrictions.

Both the LEMs and Juniors were chosen through the U.S. Department of Labor until 1935 and thereafter by each state. LEM’s comprised about five percent of total CCC enrollment.

Veterans of World War I were another group of older men who could enroll in the CCC. Several thousand World War I veterans had taken part in the “Bonus Army” marches on Washington in 1932 and 1933. The earlier march in Hoover’s administration was dispersed by the U.S. Army, while the latter march was dispersed by FDR by offering to allow them to enroll in the CCC. Many second “Bonus Army” veterans opted to join the newly established work relief program with the administration creating separate CCC companies and camps for the veterans. After the initial “Bonus Army” enrollment, Veterans Administration regional offices chose other veterans from around the country. Veterans were not restricted by age or marital status. This category comprised about five percent of total CCC enrollment.

American Indians and residents from the U.S. Territories comprised another group of CCC enrollees. They generally had separate CCC companies and camps on or in their own reservations or territories, where they could live at home and work on nearby projects. They were not restricted by age or marital status. American Indians were chosen by the local tribal council and the Bureau of Indian Affairs and made up approximately two percent of total CCC enrollment. Territorial enrollees lived in the U.S. Territories, which at the time included residents of Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Each corps area was commanded by an Army General. After signing up for the CCC, enrollees were assigned to a CCC company and reported to an
Army post for conditioning. The companies were then dispersed to a CCC camp. Later in the program, many enrollees were sent directly to existing CCC companies and camps without the physical conditioning period. A
CCC company consisted of about 200 men, although several women’s camps existed in northeastern states, enrolling 8,500 women before being eliminated in 1937. In the early days of the CCC, some racially integrated camps existed, but these were disbanded in 1935. By 1938 the number of African-American enrollees reached 10 percent, and by the end of the program, nearly 250,000 served, almost all in segregated camps.

At the beginning of the program, regular U.S. Army officers were in charge of each camp. Within several years the officers were replaced by Reserve officers from all military branches. As World War II approached, civilians were allowed to have command positions in CCC camps. Military officers had authority over enrollees from 5 p.m. until 8 a.m. The responsible work agency, such as the Forest Service, had authority over CCC men during the workday.

Initially, each CCC company was housed in a camp consisting of surplus army pyramid tents or wooden tent frames. Permanent camp buildings were later constructed by local community contractors unless the camp was in an especially remote area, in which case the company commander had an option of having the CCC company construct their own buildings. Later, camps were fitted with inexpensive, prefabricated and portable buildings.

Camps were built around a basic model that included barracks, kitchen, mess hall, recreation hall, office, latrines, and equipment and storage sheds.

Many work projects occurred far away from the main CCC camp and required men to spend as much as half the workday in travel. As a result, “side” camps were often established near the worksite. Side camps usually consisted of 10-20 men living in tents, with a work supervisor or foreman in charge.

CCC boys often preferred these side camps, which offered less stringent schedules and more congenial work and play atmosphere.

In addition to improving the nation’s forest and park lands, CCC enrollees bettered themselves. On-the-job training provided crew members with marketable skills and basic education. About one-half of the enrollees had less than an eighth-grade education, and a number of them were functionally illiterate. Evening instruction offered remedial reading and writing skills. Many camps worked closely with local schools, while some colleges offered correspondence courses.

CCC enrollees received medical and dental care along with opportunities for religious services and recreational activities. Religious services were usually provided at least once a month, although many enrollees attended local churches. Recreation often involved organized and competitive sports through camp programs. Most camps provided space for library services, dances, ping pong, card games, and musical outlets. Additional opportunities such as hunting, fishing, and courting young women in the local community existed for the CCC boys in their free time.

The CCC made substantial contributions to forested areas, especially the millions of acres of national forests. Initially, most CCC camps were assigned to national and state forests, public domain land, and a few private forests. Later in the program, additional camps were organized for other state and federal agencies that requested specific work projects. CCC accomplishments in reforestation, road construction, firefighting, and recreation still yield benefits today. The CCC left the nation a vastly improved natural resources balance sheet, including three billion trees
planted, 125,000 miles of truck trails built, 89,000 miles of telephone lines, 800 new state parks developed, 40 million acres of farmlands benefiting from erosion control work, rehabilitation of drainage ditches, better grazing conditions, and an increasing wildlife population.

During the dark days of the depression, the CCC put over three million men to work on conservation projects in the national forests. A 1933 Journal of Forestry article reported on the work of CCC enrollees in eastern National Forests, “On the whole, the men in the camps have taken to the woods work very well. Many prefer it to work on roads or other construction projects. The use of an ax is no longer a mystery, and trees are often called by their first names,” the article proclaimed. Many of these workers in the woods later found themselves using different sorts of tools as they served their country in World War II.

The CCC was one of the most popular and successful New Deal programs. It enjoyed overwhelming support from the enrollees, local communities, various states and territories, and the nation. Perhaps the most significant product of the CCC-era was the profound and lasting effect it had on the three million enrollees. Work in the CCC provided a turning point in the lives of many of the nation’s youth, and it brought much needed financial aid to their families. In addition, it fostered self-confidence, a desire, and capacity to return to active work, a new understanding of a great country, and faith in its future.

By 1941, unemployment in the United States reduced to pre-Depression levels, and enrollment in the CCC was slowing. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Congress stopped funding the program, and most of the equipment was turned over to the War Department for use in World War II.

The toil of more than 3,000,000 people lives in our park system today across the country, leaving their stamp on places like the Great Smoky Mountains, Yellowstone, Mount Rainer, and the Appalachian Trail in historic buildings, roads, lodges, fire towers and unseen conservation efforts that bear fruits to this day. The next time you’re in a National Park, remember that it might look much different if it weren’t for the Civilian Conservation Corps.



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This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 69434150_735914166836084_179055030496657408_n.jpg

Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.184.8948&rep=rep1&type=pdf


For more great American destinations, give us a listen at our new See America podcast, wherever you listen to this one.
If you are interested in RV travel, find us at the RV Miles Podcast. You can also follow Abigail and me as we travel the country with our three boys at Our Wandering FamilyParagraph

Today’s show was sponsored by L.L.Bean, follow the hashtag #beanoutsider, and visit LLBean.com to find great gear for exploring the National Parks.

Podcast Episodes

News from the Parks | September 2019

With over 420 sites in the NPS, every month offers a new opportunity to Find Your Park. And while we strive to focus on the stories that make these places so special, we also think keeping up-to-date can be useful to support and celebrate these special places.

With that in mind, we’re rolling out a new series called “News from the Parks.” The last episode of each month we’ll take a look at what is coming down the pipeline and some of the bigger news to come out of the National Park Service in the previous weeks. 

On this episode, a potential new National Park, grants to dozens of historic sites, new park superintendents, the anniversary of the Wilderness Act and more.

Listen below, or on any podcast app:


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You can find America’s National Parks Podcast on FacebookInstagram and Twitter, and make sure to subscribe on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts, so you’ll never miss an episode.

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Pick up your own “From Sea to Shining Sea” gear in the America’s National Parks Teespring store.


Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

https://www.nps.gov/orgs/1207/national-park-service-institute-of-museum-and-library-services-national-endowment-for-the-arts-and-national-endowment-for-the-humanities-announce-12-6-million-in-save-america-s-treasures-grants.htm

https://www.nps.gov/orgs/1207/national-park-service-awards-historic-preservation-grants-to-american-indian-tribes-alaskan-natives-and-native-hawaiian-organizations2019.htm

https://www.nps.gov/orgs/1207/national-park-service-announces-12-2-million-in-grants-to-preserve-african-american-civil-rights-history.htm

https://www.nps.gov/whis/learn/news/whiskeytown-nra-opens-crystal-creek-falls-area.htm

https://www.nps.gov/pefo/learn/news/jeanninemcelveenselectedsuperintendentpefo.htm

https://www.nps.gov/colm/learn/news/new-superintendent-2019.htm

https://www.nps.gov/orgs/1072/stuart-west-selected-as-superintendent-of-high-plains-group-of-parks-in-colorado-and-new-mexico.htm

https://www.wvgazettemail.com/news/bill-to-make-new-river-gorge-a-national-park-preserve/article_c121512e-e233-5f04-a782-7da818754a09.html

https://kutv.com/news/local/1000th-hatched-california-condor-chick-leaves-nest-at-zion-national-park-for-first-time

https://www.nps.gov/subjects/npscelebrates/park-anniversaries.htm


America’s National Parks Podcast is sponsored by L.L.Bean, follow the hashtag #beanoutsider, and visit LLBean.com to find great gear for exploring the National Parks. 

Podcast Episodes

The Old Northwest

In the town of Vincennes, Indiana stands the largest Beaux-Arts style monument on an American battlefield outside of Washington, D.C. It sits on the former site of Fort Sackville to commemorate a little known battle with tremendous stakes. It’s a rarely told story that effectively doubled the size of our country.

On this episode of America’s National Parks, the George Rogers Clark National Historical Park.

Listen below, or on any podcast app:


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Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

https://www.nps.gov/gero/index.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Rogers_Clark


George Rogers Clark was born on November 19, 1752, near Charlottesville, Virginia, the hometown of Thomas Jefferson. He was the second of 10 children of John and Ann Rogers Clark, who were of English and Scottish ancestry. Five of their six sons became officers during the American Revolutionary War. Their youngest son William wasn’t yet old enough to fight in the war but later found fame as one half of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

George Clark had little formal education. When he was old enough, he lived with his grandfather who trained him to be a surveyor.

In 1771 at age 19, Clark left home for his first surveying trip into western Virginia. The following year, he made his first trip into Kentucky and spent the next two years surveying the Kanawha River region, as well as learning about the area’s natural history and customs of the various tribes of Indians who lived there.

Clark’s military career began in 1774 when he was appointed as a captain in the Virginia militia. He was preparing to lead an expedition of 90 men down the Ohio River when hostilities broke out between the Shawnee and white settlers. Although most of Kentucky was not inhabited by Indians, tribes such as the Shawnee, Cherokee, and Seneca used the area for hunting. A judge from North Carolina had purchased much of Kentucky from the Cherokee through an illegal treaty and tribes in Ohio country, who had not been party to the treaty, were angry. Kentucky hunting grounds had been ceded to Great Britain without their approval. As a result, they tried to resist encroachment by the white settlers but were unsuccessful.

As the Revolutionary War broke out in the East, Kentucky’s settlers became involved in a dispute about the region’s sovereignty due to Judge Henderson’s treaty. Henderson intended to create a proprietary colony known as Transylvania, but many Kentucky settlers did not recognize Transylvania’s authority over them. In June of 1776, the settlers selected Clark and John Gabriel Jones to deliver a petition to the Virginia General Assembly, asking Virginia to formally extend its boundaries to include Kentucky.

Clark and Jones traveled the Wilderness Road to Williamsburg, where they convinced Governor Patrick Henry to create Kentucky County, Virginia. Clark was given 500 lb of gunpowder to help defend the settlements and was appointed a major in the Kentucky County militia.

By 1777, the Revolutionary War had intensified and the Continental Army could spare no man, leaving the defense of Kentucky entirely to the local population. Clark spent several months defending settlements as a leader in the Kentucky County militia while developing his plan for a long-distance strike against the British. His strategy involved seizing British outposts north of the Ohio River to destroy British influence among their Indian allies.

Clark and his men fought several battles in the ensuing years, but In February 1779, now Colonel George Rogers Clark made a bold military maneuver that would forever change the face of our nation. After taking British-held garrisons in Illinois country, Clark received word that the British had taken control of Fort Sackville in the French town of Vincennes in present-day Indiana. If Clark had waited until spring, meeting a larger British force in the open could have spelled disaster for his mission.

Taking initiative, Clark marched 175 American frontiersmen through Illinois and the flooded Wabash River in winter, through melting snow, ice, and cold rain. They arrived at Vincennes on February 23 where the hungry and cold frontiersman made contact with French allies. Together, they launched a surprise attack on Fort Sackville, which was under the command of British Governor Henry Hamilton. Hamilton surrendered the garrison on February 25 and was captured in the process. The winter expedition was Clark’s most significant military achievement and became the basis of his reputation as an early American military hero. The taking of Fort Sackville was among the most important Revolutionary battles west of the Appalachians.

The violence on the frontier eased for a time during the Revolution because of Clark’s action, and an area one-third the size of the original 13 colonies went to the United States at the end of the war. This area, known as the Old Northwest Territory, eventually became the states of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and the eastern parts of Minnesota. This was the first step to the United States expansion west and foreshadowed the larger territory that George’s little brother William Clark would explore with Merriweather Lewis 25 years later.


While nothing remains of the original fort, the people of Indiana petitioned the government to build the monument on the former site of the fort along the Wabash River in the 1930s. President Franklin Roosevelt attended the grand opening of the memorial in 1936, and a visit from President Lyndon Johnson welcomed the site into the National Park Service in 1966.

The interior rotunda includes a statue of George Rogers Clark by Hermon MacNeil and seven 28-foot tall murals by Ezra Winter, telling the story of Clark and his men.

In the park visitor center, you can find exhibits and the park film “Longknives,”

George Rogers Clark National Historical Park is part of a community of historical sites and museums that tell stories spanning over 250 years. One of the best times to visit is during the Spirit of Vincennes Rendezvous on Memorial Day weekend. Over 400 living history demonstrators camp at or near the park. The demonstrations and talks allow visitors of all ages the chance to step back to the Indiana frontier during the late 18th century. The sights and sounds of Rendezvous offer a unique atmosphere for those who want to connect to the past.

Podcast Episodes

The Search for Dark Skies

80 percent of the world’s population lives under what’s called “skyglow.” In the United States and Europe, 99 percent of the public can’t experience a natural night.

Light is helpful to people, of course, but it’s also one of our greatest pollutants. Artificial light brings disastrous consequences to wildlife, especially birds, bats, insects, and sea turtles.

This episode is a little different than most of our shows. Today, we travel to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, where for generations, the night sky helped the original Polynesian sailors find their way across the sea.

The audio comes from the park’s Voices of Science audio series, hosted by Brittni Connell, who talks with experts about light pollution and how the park is working to eradicate it.


Listen below, or on any podcast app:


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Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

Voices of Science Audio Series: https://www.nps.gov/nature/night.htm

https://www.nps.gov/havo/index.htm


Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park protects some of the most unique geological, biological, and cultural landscapes in the world. Extending from sea level to the summit of Mauna Loa at 13,677 feet, the park encompasses the summits of two of the world’s most active volcanoes. It’s yet to become an official International Dark Sky Park, but nearly 30 National Park Service sites enjoy that designation, as well as a couple dozen state parks. 

In most of these places, the National Park Service hosts night sky programs, where you can view the wonders of the solar system with the guidance of a ranger and high powered telescopes. 

Podcast Episodes

Castle on the Coast

Situated along the shores of St. Augustine in northeastern Florida stands the only surviving 17th-century military construction in the United States, Castillo de San Marcos.

A product of forces both political and technological, the fortress is evidence of empirical competition that defined so much of the colonial era. Its history is woven into the fabric of America.

On this episode of America’s National Parks, the many faces of Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, as told by Rangers who preserve and protect this historic fort.

Listen below, or on any podcast app:


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You can find America’s National Parks Podcast on FacebookInstagram and Twitter, and make sure to subscribe on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts, so you’ll never miss an episode.

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Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

https://www.nps.gov/casa/learn/photosmultimedia/videos.htm

https://www.nps.gov/casa/index.htm


In 1673, Manuel Cendoya had arrived in St. Augustine, at one of a series of wooden forts that had been destroyed and rebuilt many times over. He was charged by Mariana, Queen of Spain, to repair the fortifications of St. Augustine.

The wooden structure was in a dilapidated condition. St. Augustine was an outpost that indirectly defended the Spanish Caribbean and New Spain, but it was never self-sufficient. The viceroy of New Spain (Mexico today) was supposed to send a subsidy from his coffers each year to support the garrison and town. However, for many years, this subsidy never came. The people of St. Augustine were close to starving, and there were no funds to repair the old fort.

In 1668, a pirate ship, under disguise penetrated St. Augustine’s meager defenses. In the confused darkness, the pirates seemed everywhere as they stormed ashore. The Governor and a meager handful of soldiers were able to take refuge in the wooden fort. Others and civilians ran into the woods as the pirates systematically sacked the town. By the time the pirates left the next day, 60 people were dead.

The sack of St. Augustine was a blessing in disguise, for it shocked Spanish officials into action. The governor of Cuba, as well as the viceroy of New Spain, finally sent money and troops to bring St. Augustine up to strength. Back in Spain, Queen Mariana commanded the viceroy to pay the Florida funds on time and ordered a permanent fortress and to support a full 300-man garrison in Florida.

Meanwhile, the Governor’s tenure in Florida was ending, and the Queen appointed Manuel Cendoya to the governorship.

Arriving in Veracruz, he proceeded to Mexico City to confer with the viceroy. He asked for 30,000 pesos for the construction of one main and two auxiliary fortifications. In December word arrived of an even greater threat than that of pirates. The general council of finance discussed the matter and allowed Cendoya only 12,000 pesos to begin construction of just one fort. If suitable progress was made, they would consider sending 10,000 pesos yearly until completion.

On assuming the governorship, he moved promptly on the matter of fortifications. For more on the Pirate influenced design, here’s Ranger Allen Arnold.

The fort itself was constructed of a unique material that has ensured its survival over the last 350 years. Here’s Ranger Jill Leverett.

When Britain gained control of Florida in 1763, St. Augustine became the capital of British East Florida, and the fort was renamed Fort St. Mark until the Peace of Paris when Florida was transferred back to Spain and the original name was restored. Spain ceded Florida to the United States in 1821; who designated it an Army base named Fort Marion in honor of American Revolutionary War hero Francis Marion.

Over the decades, coastal forts have been used for many purposes, one of the most nefarious being prisons for Native Americans. Fort Marion was used to incarcerate Plains Indians, Geronimo’s Apache, and most notably, 200 Seminole, 20 of whom escaped.

Ranger Jill Leverett again.

Today, the St. Augustine area is a haven for recreation, especially golf, featuring several championship courses. But the first golf course in the State of Florida was carved right into the grounds of the fort. Jim Purdy, Park Interpreter.

The fort was declared a National Monument in 1924, and after 251 years of continuous military possession, was deactivated in 1933. The 20.48-acre site was subsequently turned over to the United States National Park Service. In 1942 the original name, Castillo de San Marcos, was restored by an Act of Congress.

Castillo de San Marcos is the oldest and largest masonry fort in the continental United States. It’s open every day except Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. All visitors must exit the Castillo no later than 5:15 p.m. Tickets are required and can be purchased in advance online. The city of St. Augustine operates a pay parking lot that can accommodate vehicles up to 21′. A free parking lot for larger vehicles is available a few blocks away.

It’s also worth noting that as this episode airs, the monument is closed in preparation for Hurricane Dorian, which only recently received category five status. All are keeping all those in the path of this storm in our thoughts.

Podcast Episodes

10 Days, 1,800 Miles

For 18 short months, a group of riders carried letters from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California, and they did it in just 10 days. Crossing 1800 miles of rough western terrain, at breakneck speeds, the Ponny Express tied the east to the west in ways that would become pivotal in the years to come.

I’m Abigail Trabue, filling in for a very sick Jason Epperson, and on this episode of America’s National Parks Podcast, the Pony Express National Historic Trail and the riders who have become synonymous with the American West.

Listen below, or on any podcast app:


Connect & Subscribe

You can find America’s National Parks Podcast on FacebookInstagram and Twitter, and make sure to subscribe on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts, so you’ll never miss an episode.

Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group here.


Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

https://www.nps.gov/poex/learn/historyculture/index.htm

National Pony Express Association


For 18 short months, a group of riders carried letters from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California, and they did it in just 10 days. Crossing 1800 miles of rough western terrain, at breakneck speeds, the Ponny Express tied the east to the west in ways that would become pivotal in the years to come.

I’m Abigail Trabue, filling in for a very sick Jason Epperson, and on this episode of America’s National Parks Podcast, the Pony Express National Historic Trail and the riders who have become synonymous with the American West.

Thanks to the Gold Rush of 1849, the 1847 Mormon exodus to Utah and the thousands who had moved west on the Oregon Trail, the need for fast mail service beyond the Rocky Mountains had become vital.

Originally the need was filled by outfits such as the Butterfield Overland Mail Service and private carriers, but then postmaster general Joseph Holt scaled back service to California and the central region of the country in 1858, and an even greater need arose.

Enter in the Leavenworth & Pike’s Peak Express Company created by William H. Russell, Alexander Majors and William B. Waddell. It would later be known as the Pony Express.

In January 1860, with only two months to make the Pony Express a reality, the team had their hands full. Over 100 stations, 400-500 horses and enough riders were needed – at an estimated cost of $70,000.

In March 1860, an ad was placed in the Sacramento Union that read,

“Men Wanted”

The undersigned wishes to hire ten or a dozen men, familiar with the management of horses, as hostlers, or riders on the Overland Express Route via Salt Lake City. Wages $50 per month and found.

On April 3, 1860, the first official delivery of the Pony Express took off in St. Joseph, Missouri. Surrounded by great fanfare, a mail pouch containing 49 letters, five telegrams, and miscellaneous papers was handed to a rider at 7:15 p.m. A cannon was fired, and the rider bolted off to a waiting ferry boat.

Because of the pace at which the riders took to the route, The Pony Express was set up to provide a fresh horse every 10-15 miles and a fresh rider every 75-100 miles. With an average speed of 10 miles per hour, it took 75 horses to make the one-way trip.

On April 9 at 6:45 p.m., the first rider from the east reached Salt Lake City. On April 12 at 2:30 p.m., the mail pouch reached Carson City.

From there the riders flew over the Sierra Nevada Mountains, down through Placerville, California and on to Sacramento. On April 14, the first mail pouch delivered by the Pony Express arrived in San Francisco at midnight.

The New York Times wrote, “citizens paraded the streets with bands of music, fireworks were set off….the best feeling was manifested by everybody.” 

Despite the success and approval of the public, problems abound – weather, supply difficulties, rider fatigue, and war.

Fueled by white mineral seekers encroaching on traditional Indian lands, The Pyramid Lake War, crippled the operation of the Pony Express for months, an operation that was also guilty of encroaching on Indian territory, building relay stations at critical water sources that the native Paiute people depended on. As Prospectors continued to claim resources and land that wasn’t theirs to claim, conflict between whites and the Paiutes became inevitable.

On May 7, 1860, an old Paiute man and a younger Pauite woman went to a house owned by white man J.O. Williams. Inside four white men tied up the man and attacked the woman. They were later set free, but the Pauite man returned with friends who forced the four white men into the house and burned it to the ground.

As the conflict raged, Indian raids became more common at remote Pony Express stations in western Nevada, and in May of 1860 Simpson Park Station was burned to the ground, and the station keeper was killed.

By June the Pony Express had canceled operations between Carson City and Salt Lake City, which meant cash flow wasn’t coming in.

By July, with the help of federal troops and stepped-up security measures, the Pony Express resumed mail delivery to California, but delays had cost the company almost $75,000.

But the final blow to the Pony Express would come not from war, or delays, but from the advancement of communication. Fueled by the need to keep the west a part of the union as war loomed on the horizon, In June 1860, almost ten weeks after the first successfully delivered pouch, Congress authorized a bill instructing the Secretary of the Treasury to build a transcontinental telegraph line connecting the Missouri River and the Pacific Coast. On October 26, 1861, San Francisco made direct contact with New York City and the Pony Express, was officially no more.

In June of every year, the National Pony Express Association takes to the trail in a re-ride covering 1,966 miles in ten days. The 750 volunteers ride for 24 hours straight in an attempt to faithfully deliver the over 1,000 letters received every year. You can follow the action 24 hours a day on an online feed provided by the Association. We’ll link to it in the show notes.

Today, most of the original trail has either been erased by time or human activities. However, short pristine segments can still be seen in Utah and California., There are also 120 historic sites, including 50 existing Pony Express stations or station ruins that may eventually be available to the public.

For those who want to take to the open road, the National Park Service offers a state by state Auto Tour Route Interpretive Guide featuring an overview of local trail history and driving directions to suggested sites and points of interest. The National Park Service stresses that this is a work-in-progress.

Podcast Episodes

The Waving Girl of Savannah

The Savannah river twists and turns for 301 miles in the Southeastern United States, forming most of the border between Georgia and South Carolina, before it’s divided into channels by several islands near Savannah Georgia, and then spills into the Atlantic. The last of those islands holds a storied past, having played a role in both the revolutionary and civil wars, as well as World War II.

I’m Jason Epperson, and today on America’s National Parks, Cockspur Island, and Fort Pulaski National Monument.

Listen below, or on any podcast app:

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Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group here.


Before the rapid population growth and development of the Savannah area, spring tides covered the entirety of Cockspur Island. Behind it was a series of marsh islands, which have now been joined to Cockspur by the dredging of the Savannah River to accommodate modern shipping.

It’s strategic coastal location meant the island was ideal for military fortification. In 1761, an earth and hewn log fort was built, along with a quarantine station and customs checkpoint. It was called Fort George, and it protected the entrances to the city from foes but was more focused on shipping regulation.

During the Revolutionary War, American Patriots dismantled Fort George. It was too exposed for its size against the big British ships. The crown then established the island as a safe haven for Loyalists who fled there with the Royal Governor, Sir James Wright. Cockspur became, for a short time, capital of the colony of Georgia.

Once the Revolutionary War ended, the new United States would build a new fort on the site. It was constructed very much like Fort George – with earth and log – and would be named for the Revolutionary War hero, General Nathaniel Greene. The life of Fort Greene was short and tragic. In September of 1804, a hurricane swept across the island washing it away.

In the early years of the 19th century, the United States would embark on a massive coastal fortification project, which you can learn a bit more about in our Guardian of the Gulf episode. At Cockspur, the 5-sided Brick bastion Fort Pulaski was built, by free men and slaves under the command of Robert E. Lee.
The new fort was finished in 1847, only a couple of decades before it would serve in the civil war.

Situated off the southeastern tip of Cockspur Island marking the South Channel of the Savannah River, the Cockspur Lighthouse stands twelve miles east of the port of Savannah. The first brick tower, used as a daymark, was built between March 1837 and November 1839. In 1848, John Norris, a New York architect, was contracted to supervise construction of an illuminated station. Norris designed many of Savannah’s grand structures.

Norris’s duties were to “repair, alter, and put up lanterns and lights on Cockspur Island…and to erect a suitable keeper’s house.” This first tower had a focal plane 25′ above sea level. The beacon housed a fixed white light emanating from five lamps with 14″ reflectors visible for nine miles.

Tragedy struck again in 1854 when the structure was destroyed by a hurricane. The tower was rebuilt and enlarged on the same foundation the next year. At the start of the American Civil War, the light was temporarily extinguished. On April 10, 1862, Union forces in eleven batteries stretching along the beach at Tybee Island, started a long-range bombardment of Fort Pulaski. Thirty-six guns participated in a thirty-hour siege of the fort with the Cockspur Lighthouse in direct line of fire.

Though much of the island’s story is a violent one, spanning decades of war and natural disasters, passing ships warmed by the dedicated cheerfulness of one special woman.


Florence Martus was the daughter of a sergeant stationed at Fort Pulaski. Her brother George was keeper of the Cockspur Island Lighthouse but soon transferred to the nearby Elba Island light, bringing Florence him. One day, while spending an afternoon with her father, a sailing ship docked at Savannah, and a few of the sailors rowed out to Ft. Pulaski, just a stone’s throw from the lighthouse. Florence’s father offered to give the sailors a tour of the island, and lighthouse and Florence went along for the ride where she and one of the sailors caught each other’s eye. During his time in port, he visited Florence three times and when he left promised to return and marry her. The morning that the ship left port, Florence stood in front of her cottage and waved a white handkerchief. The sailor never returned.

Life at the remote cottage was lonely for Florence whose closest companion was her devoted collie. She began to welcome each incoming ship in memory of her love with a wave of her handkerchief. Sailors began returning her greeting by waving back or with a blast of the ship’s horn. Eventually, Florence started greeting the vessels arriving in the dark by waving a lantern.

She became a well-known and welcomed sight for all mariners who came to expect her as they entered port. Many sailors brought her gifts. One even presented her with a llama from Peru.

Florence Martus continued her waving tradition night and day for 44 years without break, and it is estimated that she welcomed more than 50,000 ships during her lifetime. She grew to become a legend, known far and wide as the “waving girl of Savannah.”

Florence died in 1943, having never loved another. She was laid to rest next to her brother in Laurel Grove Cemetery. The headstone inscription resonates the admiration for their service to the harbor and its visitors, saying “in memory of the Waving Girl and her brother, keeper of the lighthouse on Elba Island for 35 years.” On September 27 of that year, the SS Florence Martus was christened in her honor. According to the Georgia Historical Society, it was the thirtieth of eighty-eight liberty ships built in Savannah and was eventually scrapped in Baltimore.

Despite the loss of her namesake ship, Florence’s legacy lives on thanks to a statue that sits in the Savannah Harbor created by renowned sculptor Felix De Weldon, the artist behind the Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington, Virginia. The figure can be found at the eastern end of River Street, overlooking the Savannah River from the bluff. The captain of the ship that delivered the statue declined payment in her memory. 


The legend of Florence and her sailor love may or may not be true, there’s no concrete evidence, but her effect on sailors for nearly half a century is very real.

The Elba Island Lighthouse is gone to the sea, but the Cockspur light remains. It’s closed to visitors for restoration, but you can see it from the shore.

Brick forts like Fort Pulaski were a dying breed almost as soon as they were built. In the civil war, the Union army’s rifled cannon tore right through it, compelling the Confederate garrison inside to surrender. The outer walls are riddled with giant pockmarks from the bombardment.

After the Civil War, Fort Pulaski was unoccupied and neglected. The War Department finally made it a national monument in 1924 by presidential proclamation of Calvin Coolidge. The 1930s saw new activity on the island with the arrival of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) who worked to rehabilitate it and the surrounding landscape.

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