MA – Watertown Park Opens With Sensory Garden for Visually Impaired


The Watertown Riverfront Park and Braille Trail is part of an initiative to increase recreational opportunities for people of all abilities.

WATERTOWN, MA – The Watertown Riverfront Park and Braille Trail held its grand opening Thursday, as part of the governor’s initiative to increase access to the state park system.

The park was designed by Sasaki Associates and Chester Engineers, who were supervised by the Department of Conservation and Recreation with the assistance of Perkins School for the Blind, and connects the community to the waterfront.
The Braille Trail is a quarter-mile loop within the park that wraps around a sensory garden, incorporating elements that emphasize touch, hearing and smell. The garden includes benches, stone walls, a canoe-like Mishoon boat and a musical marimba bench designed to look like a xylophone, where visitors can play music through the wooden slats.

The Braille Trail also has a guide wire to assist visitors with impaired vision. Different types of beads are placed along the wire to indicate the location of both Braille panels and seating; there are ten interpretive features along the trail written on granite posts in both English and Braille.

“Increasing access to the Commonwealth’s natural, cultural and recreational resources for people of all abilities to enjoy remains a high priority of our administration,” Gov. Charlie Baker said in a press release prior to the park’s opening. “I am excited for the opening of the Watertown Riverfront Park and Braille Trail, where visitors can appreciate the seamless blending of the park’s features with the natural surroundings for years to come.”

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While America’s 59 national parks may get all the glory and the Ken Burns documentaries, nearly three times as many people visit the country’s 10,234 state park areas each year. Spanning a total of more than 18 million acres across the US, America’s state parks take up the equivalent land area of 13.6 million football fields — or roughly the size of South Carolina.

So yeah, there’s kind of a lot to explore. To help us narrow down a list of the cream of the crop, we consulted locals throughout the country to give us their top picks of their favorite state parks. Behold, our glorious unveiling of America’s top 25.

Thillist’s 25 State Parks to Visit

WA – New Old Time Chautauqua, State Parks team up to host summer events

A very interesting summer interpretive program happening in Washington!

Events take place in seven state parks and nearby communities

OLYMPIA – June 3, 2016– The New Old Time Chautauqua (NOTC), America’s only traveling or circuit Chautauqua, is joining forces with Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission for a 2016 summer tour of seven state parks and nearby communities.Chautauquas were based on the idea that learning continued throughout life. The Chautauqua Movement began in 1874, bringing a mix of education and entertainment to communities throughout the nation. When a Chautauqua came to town, all normal activity stopped as citizens dedicated a week of their lives to learn, be entertained and join with their community.

“The idea of the Chautauqua-Parks partnership is to renew ties and to foster goodwill between the towns and their local state parks,” said Paul Magid, founding member of the NOTC and The Flying Karamazov Brothers. “Chautauquas and Washington Parks share common goals: to promote community through education and experience by being a catalyst for cultural and creative exchange surrounded by the beauty of nature.”

“Chautauquas were always held in an idyllic setting—among the trees, by a shore, or in a park—which is why this partnership is such a natural fit,” said Debbie Fant, Coordinator for the State Parks Folk & Traditional Arts Program. “And each park on the tour can tell its own story in workshops led by local experts.”

Each Chautauqua takes place over several days, with events occurring one day in the nearby town and another day in the state park. Each Chautauqua includes entertaining and educational workshops in parks and towns, a community potluck in each state park, live music, speakers and a grand parade—community participation encouraged—through the town. Each Chautauqua comes to a close with a family-friendly finale featuring Broadway stars, a big band, aerialists, comedians, jugglers and more.

Presss release

More on Chautauqua

WXYZ Editorial: Celebrate July 4th Parks Fireworks Safely

WXYZ Detroit – How about celebrating this July 4th weekend in one of America’s state or national parks?  Here in Michigan, you are never more than 30 minutes from a Michigan state park, campground or trail.  From Belle Isle to Fort Wilkins, the parks will kick off this summer holiday with a host of activities.  Michigan has dozens to choose from and your state recreation passport will get you in any of them.   It will also help to maintain and preserve the quality of our parks.

We also encourage you to explore and enjoy our national parks.  In August, our National Park Service turns 100!  This centennial salute is about the past and the future!  There are plenty of opportunities to learn and have fun inside the 407 national parks.  That includes  Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes Lakeshore and the 10-thousand square miles of the MotorCities National Heritage area.  Both attract millions of tourists and billions of economic benefits.

But wherever you choose to celebrate July 4th, we urge you to practice fireworks safety!  These colorful displays have become a tradition and festive part of marking America’s independence.  Experts predict backyard fireworks will hit an all-time high this year.  But to be safe, go to our web site for a list of  very important safety tips.

And if you want a choice, we’ve posted the state parks that will have fireworks and parks that are fireworks-free on July 4th.


Happy Birthday, America!  There’s much to celebrate!

PA – Lawmakers reject bill to open state parks to private development


Pa. lawmakers reject bill to open state parks to private development

Proponents wanted more golf courses, inns and conference centers; opponents said it would be counter to the parks’ purpose

The Pennsylvania House soundly rejected Tuesday legislation that could have led to state parks with privately developed and run hotels and even amusement parks.

The proposal failed on a 77-123 vote, despite the sponsor offering a significantly watered down version of the bill late Monday.

Several bill opponents, including Rep. Stephen McCarter, a Democrat representing Philadelphia’s northeastern suburbs, cited language in the state constitution requiring the preservation and protection of the state’s natural landscape for future generations.

The bill alarmed the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation and numerous environmental groups. The measure had cleared two of the three required votes in the House.


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ID – KTVB’s Viewpoint on Idaho State Parks, Historical Museum

KTVB’s Viewpoint on Idaho State Parks

Video.  Interview with Parks Director David Langhorst re corporate sponsorships, and other updates on the  30 Idaho state parks.

KTVB Viewpoint video ->


NC – Grandfather Mountain: The History and Guide to an Appalachian Icon

On Charlotte Today yesterday morning on WCNC-TV discussing the  new book Grandfather Mountain: The History and Guide to an Appalachian Icon and was able to promote the centennial of state parks and the Grandfather event. Just click the link.

My new book has been reviewed extensively over the last few weeks in newspapers, magazines, radio and TV—and I always focus on Grandfather Mountain State Park and the centennial.   This Thursday June 30, on UNC-TV, DG Martin’s NC Bookwatch show features the park and my book at 5 p.m. If you can’t watch then, just check out this video link.



Randy Johnson
Travel Editor / SkiSoutheast.Com

Weather Channel | 10 Coolest Things in State Parks Across America


State parks get a bad rap. Though there are more than 10,000 state park areas in the U.S. on more than 18 million acres, they don’t carry the same majesty as names like Yellowstone or Yosemite.

But they should, because our state parks are some of the most beautiful and geographically unique destinations on the map. Take one state park in Arizona that boasts a natural waterslide made of smooth sandstone. Or another in New Hampshire that includes a tram-accessible mountain where four states can be seen at once.

Here the coolest features at state parks across the U.S. They make the case that national parks are just part of the bigger picture that is our nation’s protected lands.

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AL – Gulf State Park Renovations on Schedule

Gulf State Park Renovations on Schedule

By: Rick Harmon, Alabama Tourism Department

MONTGOMERY (Governor’s Office) – Major developments at Gulf State Park that range from a beach environmental center to a 350-room lodge for family reunions are under construction and on schedule to open within two years, Gov. Robert Bentley announced today.

Creating miles of trails for biking and hiking and restoring sugary white sand dunes that would cover the equivalent of 50 football fields will be completed even earlier, he said.

Bentley, who tasked the University of Alabama System and the Alabama Department of Conservation to work together on the $135 million project, said that the work won’t be funded through taxes but financed with funds that BP provided to restore the economy along the Gulf Coast after the 2010 oil spill.

Three of the projects are currently under construction: the dune restoration, the trails and trail enhancements, and the lodge and meeting space.

All five components will open by summer 2018 with the trails expected to open by spring 2017, he said.

The redevelopment, which Gov. Robert Bentley promised voters before his election in 2010, is expected to be a huge boon to an already surging Gulf Coast economy.

“This will preserve and enhance the natural wonders of Gulf State Park, make it a national showplace and teaching tool, while also boosting the economy of the state,” Bentley said.

The Gulf State Park project was one of the first Alabama projects approved by the Natural Resource Damage Assessment Trustee Council, which was set up to disperse BP money and  includes representatives from four federal agencies and the five affected states.  But some have protested the move, and filed lawsuits, saying the funds shouldn’t be used on Gulf State Park because it was damaged by Hurricane Ivan in 2004 rather than the oil spill.

Increasing tourism

The renovation includes $56 million to replace the park lodge.  That will add 350 rooms and a 40,000 square-foot ballroom, the biggest on the Gulf Coast, which will create a major space for meetings.

“We know there is pent-up demand for additional meeting space on our coast,” said Herb Malone, president and CEO of the Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism.  “This should help meet that demand and bring in larger groups that may not have been able to hold their meetings or conventions here before.”

But Lee Sentell, director of state tourism, said the redeveloped park won’t just attract conventions.  He expects it to become a major ecological tourist site.

“The last six governors talked about investing in Gulf State Park to reach its potential, but Gov. Bentley made good on his campaign promise with vision and money,” Sentell said.

“Because of the Governor’s vision in redeveloping this park, it will be a major draw for those who want to learn as well as experience nature in a new and exciting way.”

Since 2003, the amount tourism has contributed to the general fund has more than doubled, going from $23 million to $47 million.  In 2015, Alabama tourism created $12.6 billion in visitor spending, generating about $798 million in state and local taxes.

Malone said the redevelopment at Gulf State Park will only help Gulf Coast tourism, both as a premier ecological park and as a meeting space that will help the state get a larger share of convention business.

“It would give us a larger meeting space than we currently have, and it would mean more meetings held here during our shoulder seasons,” Malone said.  “That will generate more year-round jobs and bring Alabama association’s meetings, many of which have had to be held in Florida because we simply didn’t have the space, back to Alabama.”

Preserving parks ecosystems

Project spokeswomen Nisa Miranda said Gulf State Park is a unique asset to Alabama in that it contains eight distinct ecosystems and with both beach and forest ecologies inside a single park.

She said improving access to both ecologies will help attract tourists to the region even when it isn’t peak season for the coast. The renovation project consulted several internationally renowned experts who collaborated on developing the environmentally sensitive projects at the park.

One of the major ones is the dune project.

Jill Dixon is with Sasaki Associates, a firm of landscape architects that has worked on the master plan for the renovations, including work with the Volkert engineering firm responsible for the Dune Restoration Project.

“Our team, comprised of some of the nation’s foremost experts in their respective fields, will be using innovative techniques and native plantings to rebuild the equivalent of more than 50 football fields of dunes,” she said.

They have come up with a way to encourage the dunes to naturally form themselves, which will make them more resilient than man-made dunes.  The innovative techniques being developed and used for the park are the focus of an article in the March 2016 edition of Landscape Architecture, the magazine of the American Society of Landscape Architects.

The result of these techniques should be more protection from storms and for the animals that use the dunes as core habitats, including hundreds of migratory bird species and such endangered species as loggerhead sea turtles, least terns and the Alabama beach mouse.

“The purpose of these renovations are to respect the existing ecologies while working with nature to preserve the beauty and specialness of the the park,” Miranda said.

Alabama’s coastal classroom

Miranda, who said cooperation between the state and the University of Alabama system on the project has been seamless, is also proud of another part of the renovation – making the park “Alabama’s coastal classroom.”

The renovations include: a learning campus, a new environmental research and education program that will include a center with classrooms, research facilities and even visitor dorms; a nature center within the campground where visitors can meet with the park’s naturalist to find out about the ecology and to take guided walks; and an interpretive center on the beach that will inspire families to take their own self-guided tours of the trails.

The trails also will be improved.  There will be seven trails through six distinct ecosystems spanning 11.5 miles.  The enhancement project will add 9.5 miles of new trails for hiking and biking.

While rebuilding the destroyed lodge, the team has gone to great lengths to make the 350-room lodge fit in with its environment.

The new lodge has a smaller footprint than the previous one and is set more than 125 feet further back from the beaches to encourage dune formation.

“Making it environmentally sustainable has been a big focus of the renovation,” Miranda said.  “Everything from how it has been constructed, to the materials used in its construction, to how it will operate has been done so that it will have less of an environmental impact than other types of construction.”

Improved ecology equals improved economy

Being green, may lead to another kind of green.

Miranda says the more the park promotes its environment, the more popular it will be with visitors.

Sentell agrees, saying the park’s mixture of unique ecosystems and environmental teaching initiatives could make it a major ecotourism site.

The renovated park’s popularity won’t just help the local economy, but will bring in tourism that will help the general fund and will particularly help other state parks that now largely depend on state park user fees for their funding.

“The Legislature has had difficulty adequately funding the state park system, and the fees Gulf State Park will bring in once it has been redeveloped will be a godsend to financially beleaguered parks throughout the state,” Bentley said.

The redeveloped park is also expected to keep the Gulf Coast’s tourism numbers soaring.

“The beach drives state tourism,” Sentell said.  “The entire state benefits from this, both through the funds going to the general fund and from the money tourists spend in counties throughout the state while they are driving to the beach.”

As an example, 400,000 more visitors came to Baldwin County in 2015 than in 2014, and Malone believes from what he’s seen so far in 2016 that Alabama’s Gulf Coast will likely have a sixth straight record-breaking year.


Kids to Parks Day 2016 Breaks Records!

Kids to Parks Day 2016 Breaks Records!

Saturday, May 21st was a record breaking Kids to Parks Day with more than 731,000 participants at 1,137 park events in 50 states and Washington D.C.

Event Distribution

  • –  State Park Events           651 (55% increase)
  • –  Local Park Events          252 (18% increase)
  • –  National Park Events    234 (54% increase)

Special thanks to Grace Lee and the NPT for all the coordination.