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Local History

KSMU's Sense of Community Series Celebrates National Park Service Centennial

National Park Service
Courtesy National Park Service

As stated on their website, the National Park Service, "a bureau of the U.S. Department of the Interior, preserves unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of America's National Park System for the enjoyment, education and inspiration of this and future generations."  While the nation's first national park, Yellowstone, was established in March 1872, the National Park Service as a whole was created by an act signed by President Woodrow Wilson on August 25, 1916.  Thus, 2016 is the Centennial year for the Park Service.  And for this week's KSMU Sense of Community series, we're visiting several national parks in this area, including sites in Kansas, Arkansas and Missouri.  The programs air at 7:45 am and 4:44pm Monday through Friday March 21-25, and of course the audio and text for each are available here.

For instance, the first visit takes us to Wilson's Creek National Battlefield, which achieved National Park status in 1960, a full 99 years after the Battle of Wilson's Creek itself.  Then Michele Skalicky will take you to the Buffalo National River in Arkansas, America's first national river.  She talked with Superintendent Kevin Cheri and Chief of Interpretation and Resource Management Caven Clark.  Among other things, Superintendent Cheri tells us that the Buffalo River itself consists of "135 miles of free-flowing streams. It's part of a total 150-mile river corridor. The first 15 miles or so were previously protected within the National Forest.  And so when the Park was established, the remaining 135 miles were incorporated as the Buffalo National River." And Caven Clark talks about how resistance to damming up this last free-flowing spring "led to the creation of the first national river in the National Park Service."

Scott Harvey will take you on tours of the George Washington Carver National Monument near Diamond, MO, and the Pea Ridge National Military Park and Civil War Battlefield in Arkansas.  After that, Kathryn Eutsler and Theresa Bettmann will present the Missouri and Arkansas branches of the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail.  Wrapping up the series, Mike Smith ranges far and wide: from the Fort Scott National Historic Site in Kansas to the Ozark National Scenic Riverways National Park--the first national park set up to protect a river system, specifically the Current and Jacks Fork Rivers.  You'll hear from Park Superintendent Larry Johnson, who says "the rivers that are part of Ozark National Scenic Riverways comprise 134 miles, and that translates out into the land ownership along those rivers, about 81,000 acres roughly."

In addition, we wanted to tell you about a special project being undertaken for the National Park Service Centennial.  The NPS is collaborating with Storycorps on capturing a series of recorded interviews and oral histories about the National Parks of the Midwest Region. George Washington Carver National Monument Superintendent Jim Heaney talked with KSMU's Scott Harvey about his involved in the year-long project, which includes stories from park staff past and present; park visitors and users; even critics and detractors. 

Heaney says he already had "some familiarity with Storycorps (from listening to NPR), so when we were discussing different regional projects for the (Park Service) Centennial, I threw out the idea of a partnership with Storycorps--contacted Storycorps and they just loved the idea. In fact, they were looking to partner in some way with the Park Service... I kind of made that connection before they asked!  So far it's just been terrific. I've been working as the liaison between parks and Storycorps."

So far Storycorps has visited 20 midwestern National Parks, recording six interviews at each site, with 15 more parks and sites to go. "The goal," says Jim Heaney, "is of course to preserve those stories as part of the collection in the American Folklife Center, I think it is, in the Library of Congress--so preserving these memories but also sharing them with the public. We've been doing that through social media, and through the Media Cloud site that Storycorps set up for us. So, capturing those moments and sharing them, as a way of celebrating our past; also was a way of preparing for our future."

One of the more compelling stories available on YouTube is told by 92-year-old Harold Warren Jr., an African-American Buffalo Soldier during World War II.  He lives just a mile from the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument in Ohio. "To have that monument placed in the National Park System," Warren says, "it was unbelievable. It's really been, and it will be, a tourist attraction and a historical event that could never be matched by any other means, really."