Amherst resident shares stories of National Parks

AMHERST – It “fills me with awe. It is beyond comparison-beyond description, absolutely unparalleled throughout the wide world.”

Those were President Theodore Roosevelt’s words in 1903 after he visited the Grand Canyon for the first time, 16 years before it was designated a national park.

Steve Farrar would agree – about the Grand Canyon and all of our national parks. On July 12 he shared his passion with a packed audience at the Amherst Town Library.

The Amherst resident has visited 57 of the 60 national parks, including some that few are aware of. The week before his slide show he returned from the Kobuk Valley National Park, protected lands beyond the Arctic Circle.

His interest began when he was a teenager. In 1969 he was a 14-year-old Boy Scout attending the Scout’s National Jamboree in Idaho and they took a bus trip through three national parks: Grand Teton and Yellowstone, in Wyoming, and Glacier, in Montana. He was hooked and still is.

During his visits, Farrar tends to go all in – he has climbed Mount Rainier in Washington twice, hiked to the summit of Denali in Alaska, the highest mountain peak in North America, and scuba dived the coral reefs of the Virgin Islands National Park.

He even proposed to his wife, Doffie, at Lassen Volcanic National Park in northern California. “She had to climb a 10,000-foot volcano to get the ring,” he says.

The National Parks have 331 million annual visitors, but Farrar said those numbers shouldn’t discourage people. Many of the parks are huge and nearly empty. Some, like Congaree National Park in South Carolina and Dry Tortugas in Florida, are little known.

Farrar also tried to untangle the designations under the National Parks Service, which operates under the Department of the Interior and oversees 446 units that include the 60 national parks.

In addition to national parks, the parks service has authority over national monuments, national preserves, national historical parks, national historical sites, national battlefield parks, national memorials, national recreation areas, national wild and scenic river, national seashores, national lakes shores, national parkways, national cemeteries and national trails.

The Golden Spike in Utah, for example is not a national park but one of 79 National Historic Sites. It commemorates the completion of the first Transcontinental Railroad where the Central Pacific Railroad and the first Union Pacific Railroad met in 1869.

Or the Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado and Utah, not strictly speaking a park, but “a wonderous place that isn’t often visited,” Farrar said.

Other U.S. government departments oversee national conservation areas (16), national wildlife refuges (555) national forests (154, including the White Mountain National Forest), national grasslands (21) and national monuments (38)

Of the 60 national parks, Farrar has visited 57. For the most popular ones, he makes plans to see them at their best. At Mount Rushmore, he and Doffie rose before 5 a.m. to be alone and watch the sunrise hit the presidents’ faces.

“You know at 7:30 the tour buses are bringing crowds,” he said. “You can sleep when you get home.”

History lessons and personal history were woven into his talk. After Mesa Verde was discovered in the late 19th century, people began plundering the Pueblo archaeological site, When Congress refused to protect it with a national park designation, President Roosevelt used the Antiquities Act to give it national monument status.

The Act has been used more than a hundred times since its passage, with President Obama using it the most, 26 times. Last year President Trump directed a review of the law. But Farrar veared away from politics in favor of awe.

“You can look at all the pictures of redwoods,” he said, but it’s nowhere near as awe-inspiring as seeing them in person. “You just have to go there.”

Farrar is scheduled to give three presentations on East Coast national parks at Mont Vernon’s Daland Library. The first one is scheduled for Sept. 20, at 7 p.m.

Fun facts about national parks

My beautiful picture

The most visited park? Great Smoky Mountains National Park, on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee, with 10 million people a year,

The park that’s a tree-lovers paradise? Congaree in South Carolina, with 80 species and 15 that are the tallest in the world of their species.

The park where can you surf without waves? The Great Sand Dune National Park in Colorado.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or