August 25, 2016 marks the 100th Anniversary of the U.S. National Park Service. When you think of the National Park Service (NPS) you may picture Yellowstone or Yosemite—great big areas in the west where there are spouting geysers or huge sequoias. However, of the 413 NPS units in the United States, only 58 are National Parks. The NPS also consists of National Historic Sites, Lakeshores, Seashores and Memorials, among other designations. If you're in New York City and want to celebrate the NPS centennial, you're in luck.
New York City is home to more than 10 NPS units, but there are many others nearby that are easy to get to in around/under two hours from Manhattan. If you are looking to take a day trip, here are some NPS units you can visit by car, bus or train.
Exhibit and tour ticket availability differs from unit to unit, and some are dependent on season, so please check the NPS website for the most up-to-date prices and information. Also, most parks have on-site Visitor Centers where Park Rangers and volunteers can answer questions or offer additional information. For an exhaustive list of the NPS sites, head over to Find Your Park.
Upstate New York
Just about two hours north of NYC are the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site and the Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site.
At Franklin D. Roosevelt's home, guests can take a one-hour, guided tour that takes them through our only four-term president's beloved Springwood. There is also a self-guided tour of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum. His presidential library was the first of its kind and set a precedent for future leaders of this nation. Gardens and trails abound on this 300-acre property.
Nearby in Hyde Park is the converted furniture-factory-turned-house where Eleanor Roosevelt would welcome and entertain guests. This home, which she called Val-Kill, is so far the only National Historic Site dedicted to a First Lady. Here, guests can tour the house, gardens and grounds in addition to watching an introductory film, "Close to Home," and taking in the "Eleanor Roosevelt and Val-Kill: Emergence of a Political Leader" exhibit.
Long Island, New York
Theodore Roosevelt was our 26th president, the only president born in NYC and a huge proponent of environmental conservation. Back in September 1906, Roosevelt declared Devils Tower—in Crook County, Wyoming—the United States' first national monument. In New York, though, we recognize Roosevelt's home from 1885-1919 as Sagamore Hill National Historic Site.
Located a little over an hour outside of NYC in Oyster Bay, Sagamore Hill is known as Roosevelt's "Summer White House." Guests can tour his home and visit a museum at Old Orchard, Theodore Roosevelt Jr.'s home. There, guests can partake in films and exhibits about Roosevelt. With 83 acres, there are grounds to explore, trails to walk and animals to spot among the site's forests, meadows, salt marsh and beach.
Further east and south in Long Island is Fire Island National Seashore. Just an hour and half by car from NYC, or roughly two hours via bus(es), Fire Island is a coastal haven of diverse wildlife, dunes and historic landmarks along its 26 miles of bay and ocean shoreline. Established in 1964, this National Seashore played a part in our country's whaling and fishing industries. The William Floyd Estate holds 250 years of family history, including connections to a signer of the Declaration of Independence and participation in the Civil War.
Just 40 minutes from NYC is Thomas Edison National Historical Park, located in West Orange.
Guests can tour the Laboratory Complex—there is an audio tour available at an additional cost—and check out the Chemistry Lab. Exploring this three-floor building and courtyard, guests can see machinery and inventions, watch "The Great Rain Robbery" from 1903 and learn about the Black Maria, Edison's movie production studio.
At the Glenmont Estate, the home Edison bought for his then-new wife Mina, guests can tour the 29-room mansion, roam the grounds and kids can earn their Junior Rangers badges. The third-largest museum collection in the entire National Parks Service, the Thomas Edison National Historical Park boasts over 300,000 items in the history collection and 5 million documents in its archives.
An hour outside of NYC is Morristown National Historical Park. This site commemorates the encampment of Gen. George Washington and the Continental Army during the cold winter of Dec. 1779 through June 1780. An important location in the American Revolution, Morristown houses a museum and library collection with materials about the encampment, in additional to further information about Washington and the area pre- and post-war. Guests can also hike on the 27 miles of trails, go biking in designated areas and do some bird watching.
All of the Pennsylvania NPS units take around two hours to get to via car, though the parks in Philadelphia are also accessible by bus and/or train. Getting to Philadelphia from NYC is a lot easier than you may think, as there are multiple train and bus options including Amtrak, NJ Transit, SEPTA, Greyhound, Megabus and Bolt Bus.
Valley Forge National Historical Park commemorates an earlier encampment of Gen. Washington's soldiers during the Revolutionary War than Morristown. From Dec. 1777 through June 1778, Washington's tired, un-trained men transformed into an ordered, spirited army (thanks to a lot of help and guidance from Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, a former leader of the Prussian army) that was able to face the British at the Battle on Monmouth. Guests can take a variety of bike or walking tours, in addition to a trolley tour via an old-fashioned trolley. Bike paths and trails abound—19.5 miles of hiking trails and 21 miles of designated bike trails—and there have been over 200 species of birds spotted in the park if you want to do some bird watching. Tours, like the birds you'll see, vary seasonally. Check the website for additional events held throughout the year.
If you're interested in learning about Pennsylvania history before Pennsylvania was even a state, check out the Gloria Dei Church National Historic Site. Both a historic site and active congregation, the Gloria Dei Church was built in 1700 by Swedish Lutherans. The church is open to the public, though because religious services are still held here, sometimes access to the interior is limited. The cemetery can also be respectfully explored and guests can locate graves of members of Gen. Washington's army, as well as other notable American historical figures.
Polish freedom fighter Thaddeus Kosciuszko's Philadelphia home is the smallest NPS park unit in the country at just .02 acres. However, the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial honors the man who had a hand in the battles of Saratoga and West Point as a volunteer member of the American army. A tour of his house features his furnished bedchamber, exhibits about his military roles in America and Poland, as well as stories about famous folks who visited him there (including Thomas Jefferson). This park re-opens to the public on April 2, 2016—please check the website for updates on operating hours.
Though Edgar Allan Poe only lived in Philadelphia for six years, and only at this particular building from 1843-1844, this is the home of the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site. Poe's productivity was high during his time here, probably because he was at his happiest. Guests can tour Poe's house and view exhibits about his iconic writing and fascinting personal life. Find out how Poe influenced storytellers like Stephen King and Alfred Hitchcock, listen to recordings of famous folks reciting Poe's most notable works and discover how these stories are still seeping into popular culture of the present.
In school (or by watching the first "National Treasure" movie) you likely learned how the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia at the Pennsylvania State House, as was the U.S. Constitution. These weren't quick happenings by any means and our founding fathers spent some serious time and effort debating the contents of those documents. This State House, now called Independence Hall, is located at Independence National Historical Park.
The inside of Independence Hall is accessible only by taking a tour where guests are informed about the architecture and the varied uses of the different rooms (assemblies, trials and receptions, among other purposes). No tickets are required to see the Liberty Bell, which is on display at all times (though viewing hours depend on the season). Gaze upon this formerly functioning bell of the State House and see its inscriptions and the most famous crack in America.
Also part of Independence National Historial Park is the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial, which is located about 10 miles away at the Franklin Institute. The Franklin Institute is a fantastic science museum that houses permanent and traveling exhibits, an IMAX theater and a planetarium—access to the memorial is free, but the museum itself and some of its exhibits require paid tickets.
Celebrate 100 years of American history while hiking some amazing trails and learning about folks who made a lasting impact on our country—not to mention getting out of the hustle and bustle of the city for a day or so. Manattan and its NPS units are amazing, but so are adventures to different places and times. Happy Centennial, NPS! And here's to many, many more!