National Parks

By Jerilyn WatsonMillions of people are spending part of their summer holiday visiting national parks in the United States. The National Park Service operates almost four-hundred protected areas across the nation. I'm Sarah Long.And I'm Steve Ember. America's National Park system is our report today on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.

((INSTEAD OF THEME, "GRAND CANYON SUITE"))Many Americans say it would not seem like summer without a visit to a national park. But conditions at some of the parks have caused President Bush to announce plans for improvements.

The president recently proposed spending almost five-thousand-million dollars over five years for structural repairs at the parks. Bridges, visitor centers and other buildings would be improved. So would systems for heating, electricity and safety.

Mr. Bush also named Fran Mainella as the new National Park Service director. She has been heading the state parks in Florida.The Bush Administration says the national parks need repairs to prevent harm to people, wildlife and natural areas. Environmentalists had criticized the Administration for placing top importance on structural repairs. They say it is more important to improve air and water quality at the parks.

The administration now has decided to move ahead with a proposal made by former President Clinton. This plan is aimed at improving air quality by reducing pollution in many of the parks.Administration support and federal money are extremely important to the National Park Service. The service was created in Nineteen-Sixteen as part of the Department of the Interior. Today the National Park Service operates three-hundred-eighty-four protected areas across the nation. These include large areas that offer many activities. They also include monuments, seashores, historical areas, battlefields, rivers and walking trails.

High gasoline prices have made car travel costly this summer. But officials say about two-hundred-eighty-five-million people will visit almost sixty major national parks this season.

((MUSIC BRIDGE))Visitors to America's national parks walk in the woods. They climb ropes, rocks and mountains. They swim, ride horses and visit underground caves. They attend classes about wildlife and history led by experts. They sleep outdoors in temporary shelters. They prepare food outdoors. They enjoy the beauty and wonders of nature.

The most popular national parks are the Great Smoky Mountains, the Grand Canyon and Yosemite. Almost eighteen-million people visited these places last year. About the same number are expected this year.The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is on the border between North Carolina and Tennessee. A mist that looks like smoke usually covers the mountaintops. The trees help create the dense wet atmosphere. Environmentalists hope new measures to improve air quality will reduce this substance. But until this happens, the mountains have earned their name.

More than ten-million people visit the Great Smoky Mountains each year. This is more than any other national park. Some of the mountains are about two-thousand meters high. About one-hundred-fifty kinds of trees grow in the park. People fish in many clear rivers. A number of these rivers have beautiful waterfalls.

The Cherokee Indians were the first people to live in the Great Smoky Mountains. Later, the first white settlers built houses. Visitors can see some of these very old wooden cabins in the park.The Grand Canyon in Arizona may be the most famous national park in the United States. It extends four-hundred-fifty kilometers along the Colorado River. Visitors enjoy this beautiful place in many ways. They stand near the edge and look over the canyon. They walk or ride a mule down into the canyon. They fly over it in helicopters or small airplanes. They ride in boats in the sometimes fast-moving waters of the Colorado River.

The Grand Canyon is huge, silent, peaceful and deep. Some visitors say it makes them think about their own very small place in the natural world.Yosemite National Park is in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. It has more than one-thousand kilometers of walking paths. Most of these trails lead upward to mountaintops, rivers and lakes of the High Sierra. Many animals live there, including bears and deer. Huge ancient sequoia trees grow in Yosemite. A tree called the Grizzly Giant is two-thousand-seven-hundred years old. It is thought to be the oldest living sequoia tree in the world.

In Yosemite Valley, visitors see waterfalls pour down rock walls formed by ancient ice mountains. Bridalveil Falls and Yosemite Falls are among the most famous waterfalls. Huge rocks rise from the floor of the valley. One of these is called El Capitan. It is more than one-thousand meters high.

((MUSIC BRIDGE))People can also visit many historic places in the national park system. One of these is Alcatraz Island in northern California. It is in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco Bay. In the Eighteen-Hundreds, the United States Army built a major defense center on the island. During the Civil War in the Eighteen-Sixties, this center helped protect San Francisco from the Confederate army.

But Alcatraz is most famous as a top-security federal prison. A few famous criminals like Al Capone served sentences there. The prison closed in Nineteen-Sixty-Three. Six years later a group of Native Americans occupied the island for nineteen months. They seized the island to show the problems of American Indians.The Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts is another national protected area. It is sixty-four kilometers long. There are no stores or other businesses. Visitors enjoy a peaceful ocean area. Seagulls and other birds fly over sandy shores. Tall grass and wildflowers grow in the sand. One of the many swimming areas is close to a historic spot. In this area Guglielmo Marconi built radio towers in the early Nineteen-Hundreds. He successfully sent and received radio signals across the Atlantic Ocean with this equipment.

((MUSIC BRIDGE))The Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico protects the ruins of a complex ancient civilization. The Chacoan culture began more than one-thousand-one-hundred years ago. The Chacoan people built huge houses. The largest of these contained more than six-hundred rooms. Experts believe the people used these buildings for ceremonies, meeting and trading.

The national park also protects the night sky above Chaco Canyon. The ancient Chacoan people observed the movement of planets and stars. This helped them plan ceremonies and design their buildings. Today park workers reduce lighting so visitors can get a clear look at the night skies.The Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park is in Ohio. It honors Orville and Wilbur Wright. They invented the first successful airplane. Visitors can see the building where the brothers operated their bicycle manufacturing and printing businesses. It also is where they created plans for their airplane. They first flew it in North Carolina in Nineteen-Oh-Three.

The park also honors the Wright brothers' friend Paul Laurence Dunbar. Mr. Dunbar was a famous African American writer of novels, poems, plays, and short stories.

The Wright brothers published a newspaper Mr. Dunbar wrote for the African American community. A memorial to Mr. Dunbar is in the home he bought for his mother. Visitors can see historic objects including a bicycle made for him by Orville and Wilbur Wright.Americans hope the National Park Service will continue to operate and protect their special places. Composer Ferde Grofe (FUR-dee Grow-FAY) liked one of the parks so much that he wrote music about it. It is called the "Grand Canyon Suite."

(INSTEAD OF THEME, "GRAND CANYON SUITE"))This program was written by Jerilyn Watson. It was produced by George Grow. Our studio engineer was Keith Holmes. I'm Sarah Long.And I'm Steve Ember. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.