Celebrating the National Historic Preservation Act at Vicksburg NMP

Last Saturday Vicksburg National Military Park hosted an incredible Junior Ranger Day in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act.

A living history volunteer shows a young Junior Ranger how to sew at the Shirley House.

The event was a great success and took place throughout the park. It took staff members from all divisions to pull off and involved a huge volunteer effort! Junior Rangers (of ALL ages) could travel  through the park on the tour road. Along their journey they had several opportunities to interact with park staff and volunteers to learn about historic preservation. Additionally, we had a special NHPA 50th Junior Ranger book and badge available.

Our guest speaker was Dr. Hilliard, the Director Emeritus of the Mississippi Department of Archives. He spoke to staff, volunteers, and visitors outside of the Shirley House.

Visitors might stop at the Shirley House, a great white house right in the middle of the battlefield. When they arrived they were greeted by myself and half a dozen volunteers dressed in living history clothing. Visitors could learn about sewing and could even try making a doll of their own in the dining room, which we had set up for sewing demonstration. They could dress up as Union or Confederate soldiers in our soldiers quarters room. We also had a room set up to help us talk about the Western Freedmen’s Aid Commission. We were also lucky enough to have someone from the Jacqueline House African American History Museum bring over dozens of photographs and items from their museum to display in the Shirley House. Outside of the Shirley House our Natural Resources Program Manager spoke to visitors about cultural landscapes and her role in historic preservation. We also hosted a guest speaker in the front yard of the Shirley House from the Mississippi Department of Archives.  

Visitors could see samples and learn about the blacksmiths and their role during the Civil War while visiting the U.S.S. Cairo Museum.

Visitors could also stop at our U.S.S. Cairo Museum where they could learn about blacksmithing as well as Civil War and Maritime music from several different guest presenters. Additionally, visitors could enjoy a tour of our beautiful Heritage Garden with a living history volunteer.

Visitors also had an opportunity to tour our Heritage Garden with a living history volunteer.

There was so much going on in the park and it took so much planning and work from so many great rangers in our park. It was overwhelming to see so much going on and to have so many excited visitors in the park all in one day. I’m so glad to be at a park where people work so hard and can accomplish such engaging programming. Visitors were really able to #findtheirpark by interacting with staff and volunteers in a new way that we aren’t usually able to do.

Hurricane Matthew hits Cumberland Island

Much of the South East coast was hit hard by Hurricane Matthew. Cumberland Island was included in Matthew’s path of destruction.

On the mainland, in the city of St Marys, the museum, maintenance shed, and bottom level of the visitor center flooded. Several offices had to be vacated and the museum completely emptied out. Assessments are still being done to see how much damage was done. Luckily, the water did not reach any of the artifacts or exhibits and most were left unharmed.

Maintenance workers ripping out the carpet in the offices in the Museum.
Everyone is involved in the clean-up effort. Our head of interpretation helps clean office furniture damaged by flooding.

On the island, the docks received substantial damage. The docks are still being assessed and the staff are trying to get them up and running as soon as possible. Trails and roads are being assessed; with many trees down trail crews from all around the south east are working around the clock trying to clear them. The docks are in a hazardous state. If you are boating in the area, do not approach them.

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These soldiers from the National Guard are with Delta Co. 2-121st out of Valdosta. They are working to clear downed trees and debris from the NPS parking lot.parkinglotdamage

Everyone has been doing their best to try to open the island as soon as possible. While assessments and work is still being done, the superintendent, Gary Ingram, anticipates the island could be open for limited daily use by the end of the month. “We look forward to sharing this extraordinary place with the public again. We are focusing recovery efforts on the south end to ensure a safe and enjoyable visit by the end of the month.”

Phenology! doot! doot! do do doot! Phenology!

This year in the Twin Cities our peak fall colors match perfectly with the peak of our fall education programs. (In contrast, on this day in 2002 an early season snowstorm blanketed this region with 3-9 inches of snow!)

One program we offer is Mississippi River Climate Change Field Trips, which includes a phenology hike, weather station data collection, and a service project. These field trips are possible through a partnership with MN DNR, Mississippi Park Connection, and Climate Generation.

As part of our preparation to help with these field trips, Regan and I participated in Climate Generation’s 2016 Summer Institute for Climate Change Education. This four day conference brought 40 educators together to gain skills in integrating climate change into education programs. It was a great opportunity to connect with educators in the Twin Cities Metro Area, not only to gauge interest in our climate change field trips, but also to make connections with our local schools.

Regan Baker and Melissa Clark with Dr. Benjamin Santer, atmospheric scientist and lead author of the climate change detection and attribution chapter of the 1995 IPCC report.

A couple of weeks before the field trips, I visited Seward Montessori School in Minneapolis, MN. My goal was to introduce key ideas about climate change to the 180 students who would be participating in our field trips. We talked about greenhouse gases and the difference between climate and weather.

These field trips incorporate 3 of the 4 components of the play, learn, serve, work campaign. During their visit to Fort Snelling State Park, 4th and 5th graders learn about recreation opportunities in our park and are encouraged to return to the river with their families. They loved playing a quick game of tag in the autumn leaves during their lunch break!

Students learn about several aspects of climate change, including how we measure weather and climate, how phenology can be used to track climate change impacts, and how climate change is helping some invasive species thrive.

We use maps like these to show students how seasonal changes, like peak fall color days, can vary over time.

Students also complete a service activity removing invasive buckthorn. Buckthorn is one of the first plants in the spring to leaf out and one of the last to lose its leaves in the fall. As climate change lengthens the Minnesota growing season, it is becoming even more difficult to stop this fast growing invasive. Through their service, these students are taking action to lessen climate change impacts in our park. We want all students to come away from this program knowing they can take action to address climate change.

Students make observations about seasonal changes during the phenology hike.

What will you do to take action against climate change? What local impacts have you experienced?

Ahphid Lions, Tiger Swallowtails and Woolly Bears OH MY!

Coldwater Springs is a special site of importance to the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area as it is full of history and is one of the few land sites within the 72 mile corridor that is owned by the National Park Service (NPS). It was one of the first American settlements in Minnesota established in 1825 due to its proximity to Historic Fort Snelling and its spring water. It would continuously be used for its fresh water by the Army and a central trade site for settlers and Native Americans. It wasn’t until the 1950’s that land changed hands to the Bureau of Mines to become a research center for moon rocks brought back by the Apollo mission and other mining technology. The research center had 12 buildings constructed which were later vacated in the late 1990’s until finally in 2010 the NPS took control and began its restoration in 2011. With it now being 2016 it is interesting to see how far this site has come in just 5 years not only in the renovations but the growth in diversity of species.

Bureau of Mines Building (2011), Building steps after demolition (2012), Prairie from building steps (2016)          Photo Credit: NPS/NPS/Regan Baker


With the help of many volunteer scientists, National Park Service staff and community volunteers we were able to identify that there are over 600+ species of organisms in Coldwater Springs alone! Some of the categories of organisms we found to have a wider diversity were the plants and fungi.

Volunteer scientists collecting and identifying fungi in the area


The plant diversity at this site has grown tremendously well and will hopefully continue to grow naturally and with the help of great volunteers working with the NPS. This year during our 24 hour BioBlitz we managed to identify almost 300 plants!

Pale Purple Coneflower & Purple Prairie Clover  Photo Credit: Regan Baker


Though with a Bioblitz you look for all organisms and we had a great variety! The best part of being part of an event like this is just seeing all the organisms that go into creating a truly expansive ecosystem. That can include prairie, fungi, birds, insects, mammals, and so much more!

Eastern Chipmunk, Goldfinch, Monarch Butterfly   Photo Credit: Regan Baker/NPS/NPS

If you are interested in seeing organisms  like these join a local Bioblitz near you! If you can’t wait, go out and explore a park near you with some binoculars a note pad and enjoy the beauty of nature!


Chamizal Academy


My name is Yanira Ortiz and I am the current CVA at Chamizal  National Memorial, located in El Paso, Texas, along the US/Mexico border. It commemorates a peaceful resolution between the two countries and celebrates the two cultures as well.

As we continue celebrating the national parks centennial and Chamizal’s 50th birthday, the park has been very supportive of the Every Kid in a Park Initiative and it has been integrated into a three-part program; EKIAP presentation, Chamizal academy, and a field trip.

First,we go out to the elementary schools and talk to the 4th grades about the national parks, a little bit of history about Chamizal National Memorial and explain to them the rules of the program. We also present them with the vouchers,so that they can exchange them when they visit any national park.

Secondly, and perhaps my favorite part is that we bring the kids into the park to participate in the Chamizal Academy. The academy’s curriculum was designed by the education specialist, it teaches 4th graders what to take when they go hiking, camping, etc., what stuff they have at home that can be used to make a bedroll, how to build a shelter, and to tie knots that are used to safely secure their stuff. At the end of the program, we exchange their vouchers for the 4th grade passes.

Then we take them on a field trip to nearby national and state parks; Guadalupe Mountains in Texas, and Dripping Spring in New Mexico. Rangers from the parks lead a 2 mile hike or nature walk and, teach the children about the park and its environment. It has been a great experience for me and the kids, and I think they are having a good time as well.

I hope everyone is having a great time !!



Summer BreakSpot in Florida

During the summer months, Fort Caroline part of Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve was a site for Summer BreakSpot. This program is a federal nutrition program that nonprofit groups and schools use to make sure that kids in their communities don’t go hungry during the summer when school is out.

Through hard work with outreach, our team assisted with this program and we served more than 100 kids in the community. This program also allowed us to help kids find their park and become interested at an early age.