For the first time in four years, we spent some time in Shenandoah National Park. We typically tent camp, but there was a period in which my husband feared having two toddlers in the wilderness (along with our other kids). We gave it a shot last week, choosing a spot in the Big Meadows Lodge over a tent this time out.
It’s no secret to anyone that frequents my blog how much I enjoy the park. I love its lush rolling mountains, its wildlife, and nearly everything about it. It’s even a setting in my novel Stay With Me. I’m grateful that its beauty is accessible to me and thousands of others for our enjoyment. I’m often surprised at the number of international visitors to the park that we meet; it’s a worldwide vacation destination.
To its credit, the National Park Service, which is currently celebrating a century since its creation, doesn’t whitewash how the park came to be. Many mountain residents, deemed “uncivilized,” “disreputable,” and worse, were evicted from their beloved homes, some even as part of a eugenics program in which they were forcibly sterilized.
Educator and social worker Miriam Sizer characterized the mountain families thusly: “Steeped in ignorance, wrapped in self-satisfaction and complacency, possessed of little or no ambition, little sense of citizenship, little comprehension of law, or respect for law, these people present a problem that demands and challenges the attention of thinking men and women . . .”
Shenandoah National Park’s history leaves with me mixed feelings – grateful for the park’s existence and sorry for the circumstances of its creation. If you ever have an opportunity to visit, I encourage you to spend some time in the Byrd Visitor Center at Big Meadows, learning of its history.
The park, which employed the Civilian Conservation Corps for its creation, is a natural treasure. Its history is a sober reminder of the ever-present threat of dehumanization, eugenics, and invasive government. Sometimes progress isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
How do you think knowledge of the park’s history may affect visitors’ experience and enjoyment of it?