Sunday, June 21, 2009

State Parks, an Overview

Carole and I visit a lot of state parks. We’ve hit parks in every state we’ve visited from Maine in the north to Florida in the south. Now, we don’t expect every state to be as good as the next when it comes to their state parks. Some states just have more to offer and have larger budgets for their systems of parks and wild areas. However, some states have done an excellent job with their parks, and others have mediocre parks, and still others are almost criminal in the amount of land they’ve set aside for parks and in the way that they administer those lands.

Highest on our list of park systems is most certainly the State of Florida. It’s not just that their parks are made around places of stunning scenic beauty and high recreational potential. It goes far beyond that. Florida has LOTS of state parks. They’re everywhere. It’s hard to drive more than twenty or so miles without seeing at least one road sign directing you to a nearby park. They’re everywhere. In addition to that, Florida spends a great deal of money ensuring that the parks have adequate facilities for people who are visiting the parks.

Do you like to scuba? Many parks for that. Hike? Trails everywhere. Camp? Not only do most of the parks have campgrounds, those camping areas have great bath facilities that raise the comfort level quite high indeed. Also, the State of Florida has been, since the early 1970s, slowly buying up formerly private parks that were centered around unique natural areas and turning them into public parks. Most of the first and second magnitude springs that were once in private hands are now public. That’s socialism at its finest! So for many, many reasons, Florida goes to the very top of our list of state park systems in the East.

Blue Springs State Park, Florida.

Second on our list is West Virginia. Now, West Virginia does not have nearly so many parks as Florida. Historically, West Virginia has been among the poorest states in our union. The lands were long ago denuded of their native forests and the streams polluted almost beyond recall by coal mining and natural gas drilling. The entire place was put up on the tables of the filthy corporate pigs who raped the land and stole the people blind.

How, then, did West Virginia end up with a fantastic system of state parks?

Well, a lot of the credit can go to FDR’s socialist program of the Civilian Conservation Corps. When the program was established, the various areas of the nation cast about for viable park sites where the newly hired laborers could be put to work restoring the woods and streams and building an infrastructure to enable the public to enjoy these newly acquired locations. Once again, this was socialism at its finest. The state took possession of raped ecosystems and slowly, bit by bit, saw to it that the earth was reforested and the streams cleaned up. Cabins were built for overnight stays. Campgrounds were established in secluded spots on ridges, in valleys, alongside streams, beside canyons. Trails were built—engineers laid them out and laborers carved the routes out of rock and dirt. Today, those trails will take you to great views, secluded swimming holes, amazing waterfalls.

Babcock State Park, West Virginia.

While not as impressive as the park system of Florida, West Virginia has shown that a park system can be constructed on a shoestring budget. The main thing is to leave Mother Nature alone and allow her to repair the damage done by the goddamned industrialists and the stinking, greedy, corporate monsters who seem to almost always rule our nation.

The third best system of state parks that we’ve so far encountered on the east coast is that of Virginia. Once again, the state seems to have gone to decent lengths to spend money buying land, building infrastructure, and repairing old damage inflicted by the capitalists who did their best to suck the place dry. They bled it well, but the places have recovered, and the State of Virginia has built a very impressive system of parks. Again, there are not as many parks as I would like to see, but Virginia has a decent number. They haven’t had the will to declare eminent domain where it needs to be applied, for fear of having to go toe to toe with the institutional money. But they’ve done a fair job of it. Each geographical section of the state has a good number of parks, so it’s easy to find a good place to spend your time without having to drive a ridiculous number of miles to do so.

Near Grayson Highlands State Park, Virginia.

Now then, I have to say that many states we’ve visited have a piss-poor record of having established and maintained a decent state park system. Among these states are my native Georgia, my current home state of North Carolina, the state of South Carolina, and…well…basically most of the rest of the eastern and southern states. Georgia and North Carolina in particular gall me to no end for their truly lousy state parks. Yes, there are a few jewels in their tin crowns, but by and large those systems are nothing short of a crime.

Georgia is the largest state east of the Mississippi, and yet it doesn’t have very many state parks. Also, they seem to have allowed the best of their lands to remain in private hands and inaccessible to the general population. Georgia should be ashamed of its state park system. Yes, the parks that it does have are composed of relatively decent sights and have some great recreation and nice facilities. But too much of the state’s special places are in private hands or lie fallow and inaccessible to those who would love to see them.

Lowest of all on my opinion of state parks has to be North Carolina. This place has some of the most beautiful and stunning geology and geography in eastern North America. Here in my current home state we have thermal springs, 6,000-foot peaks, vast barriers island, Piedmont rivers and streams, gigantic cliffs, temperate rainforests, and a dizzying array of native plants and animals. And yet…many of these places are not under the protection of a state park system. And many more of these places are ruined and encroached upon by land development and industrial works. The people of North Carolina should be ashamed of the pathetic state park system with which they must live. (Hey, North Carolina: Hot Springs—declare eminent domain, you fucking cowards!)

Recently acquired State Park land, Chimney Rock Gorge, North Carolina.

Still and all, even the states with mediocre (or lousy) state park systems have much to offer. We can largely thank FDR’s mildly socialist policies for these parks and the trails and buildings that grace many of them. Let’s stop being scared spitless of the money elite who rule over us. Take the unique lands away from them, and put them back into public ownership where they belong.

State Park, coast of South Carolina.

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