Great Falls National Park

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Yesterday was the 99th anniversary of the National Park Service, and every August 25 all national parks that aren’t already free drop their fees. On Monday I had Biggie read a Wonderopolis article on national parks. The next day, we drove to the Great Falls National Park near McLean (there’s normally a $10 fee for vehicles and $5 for individuals on foot).

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On the way we listened to a To the Best of Our Knowledge episode on national parks. Biggie was attentive to the first few segments of the show, and we talked about why there have always been controversy over conservation and the purpose of the national parks. Our discussion become a little heated as we talked about why there were proposed bills to limit the current power and future expansion of the parks. I, of course, played devil’s advocate and tried to get Biggie to see why some people did not see the parks as a sacred public good but an example of government overreach. He was able to forcefully argue against me, though.

The show also had a really fascinating segment about the role of Buffalo soldiers as temporary protectors and stewards of Sequoia National Park — and the historical reasons why African-Americans have avoided the national parks in particular and wilderness areas in general. Of course, at the Visitor’s Center, I saw this:

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I highly recommend dropping by the Visitor’s Center. You can ask one of the rangers for a Junior Rangers Activity pamphlet (you can also download it off the web site and print it out). Biggie didn’t really do much of it, but it gave us an overview of the park, a suggested route, and background information, which helped make the day more meaningful.

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We saw lots of flora and fauna, of course, and Biggie pointed out how the moss was much more lush on the north side of trees.

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We also saw plenty of “potholes,” and we talked about how the rocks gave us clues to how water and ice helped form this valley of the Potomac river.

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JB was in her stroller, and we mostly traveled along the Potawmack Canal trail. We were able to see ruins of the old canal and get explanations of how the gates, locks, and holding basins of a canal worked. Biggie already knew some of this, having read about the Panama Canal, but he was excited to see some of these mechanisms in person.

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Although the stroller made the River Trail pretty much out of the question, we ditched it for a little while to have a picnic on an outcrop, the highlight of the trip.

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We spotted a kayaker on the Potomac, and Biggie and I had a discussion about why he was staying close to the shore while traveling upstream. Later on, Biggie said he spotted him getting rescued by some rangers.

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JB fell asleep on our walk back, and Biggie spent a little time touring the mini-museum inside the Visitor’s Center. It was a full and eventful day, and when we got home, I threw everything into the laundry, made them take baths, and checked them all over for ticks.

More photos of the trip

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