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National Geographic releases latest edition of National Parks guide

 The Grand Canyon in Arizona
Jim Levulis
/
The Grand Canyon in Arizona

National Geographic has issued the third edition of its Complete National Parks of the United States. Along with maps and beautiful photos, the book provides details on more than 400 parks, monuments, historic sites, recreation areas and more across the country. Many Americans have rediscovered the country’s natural treasures during the pandemic, focusing attention on famous and lesser-known destinations.

For a breakdown of what’s inside the new edition, WAMC's Jim Levulis spoke with Allyson Johnson, a senior editor with National Geographic Books.

Johnson: They've added National Parks as well as historic landmarks and state parks into the National Park System since the last edition of this book. For instance, in 2020 New River Gorge was named a national park in West Virginia. So it became the 63rd National Park in the United States. And we wanted to create this third edition to make sure that we were as up to date as possible with our National Park Service. And including all of the sites that you can see throughout the system, and we didn't want to leave anything out that had been recently named and preserved.

Levulis: And when did that second edition come out?

Johnson: The second edition came out about seven years ago. So there's been a lot of new information since then. And we wanted to bring it up to speed and also go back to our park rangers that we work with all of the time to create these books and get their newest tips and tricks for exploring the park as they grow and as they expand and change over the years.

Levulis: If I see this book on the shelf or online, and basically my question is, it's a great resource, very comprehensive, but how might I actually use it? How would you answer that question?

Johnson: Well, what I would say is that this book is your starter for a bucket list to the National Parks. So we divided the book by region of the United States. So whether you're in the Northeast, the Southeast the Midwest, you go to your region, there's a map that will show you all of the different parks systems within that region. And then you can go state by state through the book and explore what's nearby your home state, what's nearby states that border your state, and then throughout the country, if you're going somewhere on a trip, is there a national park nearby that you can go visit? So I would encourage readers go through this book, really figure out what type of traveler are you? Do you want to be outside and having some adventures and hiking? Or do you want to go to national historic landmarks throughout the country, or battlefields and learn about the history of the United States. And you can really build a bucket list using this book. And you'll also find unique history about the park with tips and tricks while you're in there. So good hiking trails, the best museum to see, the best spot to stop on a drive for a scenic overlook, you'll really get kind of those high-level tips about visiting each park that you want to see.

The Complete National Parks of the United States book
Jim Levulis
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Levulis: You mentioned a bucket list. What's on your bucket list?

Johnson: Well, you know, I'm right outside of the DC area. And so I am dying to get to New River Gorge which was a new park named in 2020. I haven't been yet. And it looks beautiful. It's a beautiful gorge that has a flowing river through it. And also what they have that I think is unique is a zipline canopy tour through the area. And I think that would be so fun to do. So that's really high on my bucket list, as is making it out to the Great Smoky Mountains, which I have yet to see. But it's the most visited park in the United States. And from what I hear, it's for good reason. So I want to make it out there soon.

Levulis: I highly recommended I did the 70 miles of the Appalachian Trail through the Smokies and highly recommend. You could do it that way or of course, you know, other ways to do it as detailed in the book. You know, it's been noted that outdoor recreation saw a spike during the heights of the COVID-19 pandemic. But I was wondering, were there specific national parks that you're aware of, or areas that definitely saw that spike, or perhaps it's the type of park or historic site that it is, were they outside of major cities, any insight you can give us on that?

Johnson: You know, I think national parks across the board all got a spike during the pandemic and it actually encouraged outdoor travel and recreation that's kind of maintaining right now. It hasn't gone away. But what was most fascinating was not just the national parks seeing a spike, but state parks as well. And those, again, all maintained within the National Park System. But they were seeing spikes because as you mentioned, they're right outside cities or towns and they're easier to get to in a lot of instances there are only 63 national parks. But there are 390 other park designations throughout the country. So people were looking more to what's in their own backyard. And we were seeing a big spike in those national recreation areas, national state parks, lakeshores as well. And I think that's a trend that's kind of here to stay for a while after the pandemic and people looking to explore outdoors and feel safe in an outdoor environment while they're traveling.

Levulis: Do you have a spot or spots that you think would be great for, say a family going for a week?

Johnson: Yeah, you know, one of the great places that I think families can go to is Utah because there are five national parks that you can easily road trip two over the course of a week, you have Canyonlands, you have Arches, you have Zion and Bryce and all of them have a little different flavor. But they also have really fun things that you can do and explore. You can take horseback rides in the parks, you can do easy walking trails. And I also encourage, whether it's Utah or other parks, that families look into the National Junior Park Ranger Program. It's an almost every park in the United States. And it's a series of activities that kids can partake in while they're at their parks. So it might be like a scavenger hunt while you're out on a hike looking for leaves and flowers, wildlife. At the end of the day, you bring your activity to a park ranger and the kids earn a patch and a certificate that names them a junior park ranger and it's a really fun way for them to explore the outdoors in the park itself.

Levulis: How about any top areas for folks who might have limited mobility?

Johnson: The National Park Service is actually doing a really great job and making the parks more accessible and ability friendly. One example I love to give because I think it's a park people wouldn't expect to be ability friendly. It's Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. So it's this cave system. And there's actually an elevator there that takes wheelchair users more than 750 feet underground. And once they get there, they're in what's called the “Big Room” which is a cave chamber. And there's more than a mile of paved trails that wheelchair users can explore within the cavern and I think that's a really wonderful way to see a national park that you might think you might not be able to get to. Another great surprise is Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan. They have hearing assistance devices throughout the park that help guide you through it they also have accessible terrain that gets you around the lakeshore on a wheelchair with boardwalks and accessible canoe and kayak transfer and launch systems so you can actually go out onto the lake. And the lake is a quiet one. There's no motor boats allowed in the national lakeshore area so you can feel a little more confident being out on the water.

Levulis: Earlier we spoke about some areas outside of major cities, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, also most visited national park in the nation. How about an area if you're looking to get away in the backcountry, what might be some of your top picks there?

Johnson: You know, in the backcountry, one of the best places right now White Sands National Park in New Mexico is picking up a lot of steam for backcountry camping. It's not as expansive as some other parks but what people love about it is it's so different from other national parks. It's sand dunes, and they're white and glistening. And it's often been described as being on another planet. And there's a lot of backcountry camping that you can do out there. That is supposed to be remarkable. And you wake up to a sunrise over these glistening sand dunes. And it's really beautiful.

But if you really want to get away go to Alaska, there's a lot of untouched land out there and the least visited park which is super remote, and you really have to be a backcountry camper or hiker to visit is the Gates of the Arctic National Park. It is worth your while if you love going off the beaten path and you love really escaping into the remote wilderness.

Levulis: I had a feeling you were going to bring up Alaska there, but you kind of tricked me, you did it second. Do you have a spot perhaps it's in the book, perhaps you visited it, that sort of stopped you in your tracks, presented you with something that you did not expect whether you did visit or maybe you just in your research and in editing this book, putting it together that surprised you, gave you something you didn't expect?

Johnson: Yeah, you know, one of the places I've visited that's also in the book is Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. It is on the border of Utah and Wyoming. And what surprised me, you know, I've been to all the Utah national parks, and they're breathtaking. So I didn't have high hopes for a state park. And it actually took my breath away. It is beautiful. It gives you all the flavor of those national parks with the red sandstone and this beautiful gorge that's covered in trees and a beautiful river that flows through it. But also the amount of hiking and recreation you could do within the park. You could go river rafting, you could go fly fishing, and I really wasn't expecting it to meet what the Utah national parks have to offer. But it did it really blew my mind. And it also what was great is it isn't as crowded as all of those national parks. So you really felt like you had it to yourself while we were there.

Levulis: Final question. When does the fourth edition come out?

Johnson: You know, we're always ready for it. So we're still researching even though this book is out right now. So as soon as we have enough to add into the book, it'll be out probably in three or four years time.

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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