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National Park Service offers many historic sites in Ohio

4/14/2011 - West Side Leader
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By Jennie Vasarhelyi

CVNP — Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP) is Ohio’s only national park. However, Ohio has other very interesting sites that are managed by the National Park Service. Consider a visit to them when you are making your summer plans.

As Ohio’s only national park, CVNP encompasses the largest land area, 33,000 acres. It also has the greatest focus on nature. The other sites that I will describe preserve prehistoric and historic locations that represent important people and events to the nation.

The James A. Garfield National Historic Site memorializes the life, family and career of James A. Garfield, a Civil War general, member of Congress and 20th president of the United States. Shown is the main house. 
Photo: Mark Slater; courtesy of National Park Service
The National Park Service site that will take you deepest in time is Hopewell Culture National Historical Park in Chillicothe (www.nps.gov/hocu). From about 200 B.C.E. to 500 C.E., the Ohio River Valley was a focal point of the prehistoric Hopewell culture. The Hopewell peoples left behind great geometric earthworks and ceremonial mounds. The Mound City unit of the park preserves one of the largest known concentrations of these mounds. The park also preserves Hopeton Earthworks, Seip Earthworks and High Bank Works.

Moving forward in time, Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial (www.nps.gov/pevi) commemorates Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry’s decisive naval victory over a British fleet in the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812. The site also honors the hard-won lessons of international peace through disarmament, arbitration and negotiation. The memorial is a 352-foot column that was constructed between 1912 and 1915. It is currently closed for renovations, but the visitor center and grounds are open. Black-powder demonstrations that occur on Fridays through Sundays also are popular.

Three sites pay tribute to presidents and first ladies. James A. Garfield National Historic Site (www.nps.gov/jaga) is located in nearby Mentor. It memorializes the life, family and career of James Abram Garfield, college professor and principal, Civil War general, member of Congress and 20th president of the United States. This property includes the Garfield home, memorial library and 1880 presidential campaign office. Guided tours provide access to the home. As part of the tour, you will gain appreciation for the many improvements made by First Lady Lucretia Garfield after Garfield’s assassination.

William Howard Taft National Historic Site (www.nps.gov/wiho) in Cincinnati honors the only man to serve as president and chief justice of the Supreme Court. From the time of his birth in 1857 until he embarked on his political career, Taft lived here, surrounded by family and what his mother called “inspiration to everything that was good.” A visit to the site includes a tour of four period rooms that reflect family life during Taft’s boyhood. The Taft Education Center houses an orientation video and exhibits on later generations of the Taft family.

First Ladies National Historic Site (www.nps.gov/fila) is in nearby Canton. It interprets the roles of America’s first ladies and the impacts they have had on our nation’s social and political history. The site’s operating partner, the National First Ladies’ Library, manages a virtual library, an on-site Education and Research Center and exhibits about first ladies. Part of the site is housed in the 1841 home of First Lady Ida Saxton McKinley, and tours of the home are part of the site’s offerings.

Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park (www.nps.gov/daav) preserves the lives and legacies of Wilbur Wright, Orville Wright and Paul Laurence Dunbar. The Wright Cycle Co. Complex, located in the Wright brothers’ neighborhood, consists of the Wright Cycle Co. building and the Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center. Huffman Prairie Flying Field Interpretive Center on the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base tells the story of the flying field where the brothers learned to control their flying machine in the air. The Wright Brothers Aviation Center, located at Carillon Historical Park, contains the 1905 Wright Flyer III, the world’s first practical airplane. The Paul Laurence Dunbar House is where the poet, author and acquaintance of the Wright brothers lived and worked prior to his death.

While these sites preserve and interpret different aspects of American history, they share some commonalities in how you can visit them. While you can find information to plan a visit online, you also can talk with informed visitor center staff. They can help you tailor your visit to your interests and needs. Ranger-guided tours also are staples of National Park Service sites. Self-guided Junior Ranger programs are usually available for children visiting with their families. Children who complete the Junior Ranger activities can earn a Junior Ranger badge.

The diverse sites found in Ohio reflect the overall diversity of the national park system. As of this writing, there are 394 sites. Of these, 58 are designated as national parks. Many other designations also are used, which admittedly can create confusion about whether a site is part of the national park system. National lakeshore, national preserve, national memorial and national military parks are just some of the other designations used. You will become more familiar with the overall system by visiting www.nps.gov. The homepage includes rotating features about aspects of the system. I think you will be surprised by what you will discover.

Jennie Vasarhelyi is chief of interpretation, education and visitor services for Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

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