6 of America’s newest state parks
Monday, April 06, 2020
America is justly famous for its broad array of 400-plus national park sites — but the country’s more than 10,000 state parks offer an even greater opportunity for outdoor adventure and recreation. State preserves attract almost 810 million visitors a year (more than twice the number that visit national parks), and there’s undoubtedly one or more of them near you.
“The singularity of state parks is their meld of nature, history, local culture and ordinary life,” says Peter Kujawinski in The New York Times. “Here you find rites of passage, first campfires, an escape from work, and a quick, cheap break.”
Although many states have temporarily closed their parks in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, there will be a day in the not-too-distant future when the barriers come down and our urge to get outdoors will be satisfied. So how about someplace new and different? — like one of the country’s half-dozen newest state parks.
The road to establishing a state park can be a long one, but some states are taking the initiative to preserve and protect more of their natural and cultural treasures. Each of the following parks, all established since 2018, offers a unique experience. And, since they’re so new and still under the radar, you can beat the crowds if you go soon.
Nisqually State Park, Washington
Located just a few miles west of Eatonville, off Highway 7, and just a stone’s throw from Mount Rainier National Park, Nisqually is Washington’s newest state park. Developed through a partnership between the State of Washington and the Nisqually Indian tribe, the park provides 1,300 acres of forest, prairie and riverside trails ideal for hiking and horseback riding.
Tucked on a spit of land between the Nisqually and Mashel Rivers, and adjacent to Ohop Creek, it is a prime location for adventure and nature enthusiasts. The park has been 30 years in the making and continues to develop. The trailhead boasts an ADA-accessible restroom and paved parking area as well as an area for horse trailers, complete with a hitching post. An interpretive kiosk addresses the area’s historical and cultural significance.
Walker River State Recreation Area, Nevada
The creation of Nevada’s newest state park, known as the Walker River State Recreation Area, became official in September 2018. This extraordinary 12,856-acre spread of rustic ranchland, strung along a picturesque 29-mile stretch of the East Walker River, came as a gift to the state from the non-profit Walker Basin Conservancy.
The park is composed of four units, each an historic ranch dating back more than 100 years: Pitchfork Ranch, Rafter 7 Ranch, Flying M Ranch and Nine-Mile Ranch. Currently, Pitchfork Ranch and sections of Nine-Mile Ranch are open for exploration. Visitors are invited to experience camping, hiking, biking, kayaking, fishing, hunting and wildlife viewing. Remaining park units will open to the public over time, as infrastructure is completed.
Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park, Kansas
Established by the Kansas Legislature in 2018, this 332-acre park encompasses a striking display of fragile but ruggedly spectacular geologic formations. Well-marked trails lead hikers along a mile-long stretch of 100-foot-tall cliffs and spires of eroded Niobrara Chalk — colorful layers of rock deposited as sediment in a vast inland sea some 85 million years ago.
To the delight of bird watchers, the park is a vital habitat for a variety of species, including ferruginous hawks, rock wrens and flycatchers. The park is easily accessed from Interstate 70 in western Kansas.
Image: The Smoky Mountain News
Pisgah View Ranch State Park, North Carolina
In July 2019, North Carolina’s 41st state park was signed into existence by Gov. Roy Cooper — converting the 1,600-acre Pisgah View Ranch into conserved land. The Tar Heel state’s newest park encompasses a scenic mix of mountains, meadows and headwater streams, with much of the property offering splendid views of iconic 5,721-foot Mount Pisgah.
The ranch has been owned by the Cogburn family since 1790 and was opened to the public in the 1940s, offering rustic lodging, camping, hiking, mountaineering and horseback riding. The state has taken over renovation and repurposing of the property and will reportedly expand the current trail system and spruce up old camping facilities.
Wolf Den Run State Park, Maryland
Maryland’s newest park is the state’s only preserve offering access to off-road vehicles (ORVs). The property features a variety of terrain including 1,700 acres of mixed forest, rocky bluffs rising as high as 900 feet, trout streams and nearly three miles of frontage on the Potomac River.
The park’s unusual name is derived from a small stream that runs through the area. ORV enthusiasts can test their skills on 12.5 miles of rocky, bumpy, muddy terrain in the Huckleberry Rocks section of the park, although reservations and a nominal fee are required. Others can enjoy the more traditional state park offerings such as hiking, horseback riding and fishing.
Image: Vermont State Parks
Taconic Mountains Ramble State Park, Vermont
This extraordinary little 204-acre park — Vermont’s newest — came to the Green Mountain State as a gift from author and documentary filmmaker Carson Davidson who passed away in 2016. Davidson’s passion for conservation and community involvement was his inspiration for creating Taconic Mountains Ramble — a bucolic setting consisting of meadows, forest, hiking trails and a pristine Japanese Garden built by Davidson himself.
During his lifetime, he welcomed the public to access his land providing they observed three simple rules: no overnight stays, no smoking and no fires. Those same three rules prevail today under the state’s jurisdiction and, while there are no visitor facilities other than a portable toilet, the park is a lovely and relaxing spot to spend some time.
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