national parks

A Perfect Time for Parks

by Jennie Saxe

Flowers blooming along the Brandywine River.

Flowers blooming along the Brandywine River.

In the mid-Atlantic, we’ve been riding a rollercoaster of weather. In late February, my family donned shorts and t-shirts for a warm weekend hike along Crum Creek in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. At the end of March, the temperatures dropped and we needed toasty jackets for our walk along the Brandywine River Trail in Chester County, Pennsylvania.

But now – finally – it looks like spring has sprung.  And for me, that means more time outdoors. We’ve written about the many great spots for hiking, biking, and playing near the region’s waterways. Next week, you might consider checking out some of the nearly 20 National Parks in the mid-Atlantic that will be fee-free for the National Park Service’s National Parks Week!

Our National Parks are about more than just getting outside – they’re a connection to our heritage. Visiting these parks, you’ll also get a chance to better understand the connections between America’s history and her waterways. The Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine is situated on the Patapsco River, where the Urban Waters Federal Partnership is focused on greening the watershed and restoring this urban waterway. The wetlands near Fort McHenry provide habitat for birds and other animals and insects.

At Assateague Island National Seashore, the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, one of EPA’s National Estuary Programs, trains Coastal Stewards to assist with education at the park as well as participate in environmental research. The students study the numerous animals that make their homes in (or stop in as migratory visitors to) this coastal habitat.

So many of our National Parks have a connection to mid-Atlantic waterways, and springtime is a perfect time to enjoy them. Let us know your favorites in the comments!

 

About the author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region in 2003 and works in the Water Protection Division on sustainability programs

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Celebrate New England’s National Parks

By Gina Snyder

This is a year of anniversaries for the Boston Harbor and Islands. Twenty-five years ago the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority announced that no more sludge would be dumped into the harbor. After over 100 years of discharges to the harbor, this was a real milestone and it opened the way for the Boston Harbor Islands to become a unit of the National Park System 20 years ago. And just a decade ago, Spectacle Island, reclaimed from a former landfill, was opened for visitors.

While the first National Park was created on March 1st, 1872, it wasn’t until 100 years ago this year that we had a National Park Service. What better way to celebrate the first National Park and the 100th anniversary of the Park Service than for New Englanders to visit the island jewels in Boston Harbor and celebrate the environmental milestones at the same time?  Ferries run in summer to some of the 34 islands in the park, including Spectacle Island and George’s Island (www.nps.gov/boha).

Visiting our National Parks is a great way to enjoy nature. As of this year, Massachusetts has sixteen National Park locations DeerIsland.NPservice(www.nps.gov/ma) among twenty-seven national parks plus several national historic sites and scenic trails in all of New England. Ranging from small historic sites to a 2,180-mile long public footpath known as the Appalachian National Scenic Trail that runs from Maine to Georgia, these parks give you a variety of choices for celebrating the centennial.

If it’s a small historic site you want, why not head to JFK’s birthplace in Brookline or Washington’s headquarters at the Longfellow House in Cambridge. And if it’s a wilderness hike in nature, check out one or all 2,000 miles of the Appalachian Trail as it runs through the scenic, wooded, pastoral, wild, and culturally resonant lands of the Appalachian Mountains, through Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

New Hampshire, Connecticut and Vermont each have one National Park – Weir Farm National Historic Site in Connecticut, Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in New Hampshire and Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park in Vermont. Maine and Rhode Island each have two sites. In Maine – well-known Acadia National Park and Saint Croix Island International Historic Site, home of the earliest French presence in North America. And in Rhode Island, Roger Williams National Memorial in Providence and Touro Synagogue National Historic Site in Newport.

Celebrating our national parks lets us get outside to enjoy the environment. Here in the Boston area, it’s an advantage that you can get to many of our nearby parks by public transit. The three right in Boston are easily accessible: Besides the Harbor Islands, Boston’s National Historic Park is at Faneuil Hall (www.nps.gov/bost) and the Boston African American National Historic Site and meeting house is centered on the north slope of Beacon Hill (www.nps.gov/boaf).

In this year of centennial celebration for the National Park Service you are invited to get out and find your park, ( www.nps.gov/subjects/centennial/findyourpark.htm) but with the success of the Boston Harbor clean up, you can get out and find your island.

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About the author:  Gina Snyder works in the Office of Environmental Stewardship, Compliance Assistance at EPA New England and serves on her town’s climate committee.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Climate Change and Wildfires: What’s the Connection?

By Krystnell A. Storr

Forest fire and rising smoke

Forest fire

For me, fire comes from the end of a match or the flick of a lighter—a controllable little ball of fury the size of a fingertip. For others, it is the transformation of the towering pine trees that surround homes and roadways into a horde of fiery giants. Its march, dangerous and unruly, has made one thing very clear: the rise of wildfire activity in the U.S. is an important scientific and environmental issue—one that that is being amplified by the effects of climate change.

To determine an amount of wildfire activity in a given year, scientists measure the area burned.  The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) reports that in 2012 alone, 67,774 wildland fires burned through more than nine million acres of U.S. land, three times more than the five-year averages from a few decades ago.

Wildfires are unpredictable and containing them can be challenging and dangerous. According to the NIFC, last year the total direct costs of fire suppression exceeded 1.9 billion dollars nationwide. But that’s not all: wildfires are a major source of airborne pollutants such as fine particulate matter that can lead to serious health issues.

In a study funded by EPA, scientists are modeling projections of wildfire activity fifty years from now. The study takes into account the possible effects of global warming—changing vegetation and less precipitation—in areas already prone to wildfire activity, to determine how future fires may affect air quality.

Using past data, the team built models that link wildfire activity to meteorological conditions. The scientists estimate that by the year 2050, wildfire activity is expected to double in the Southwest, Pacific Northwest, Rocky Mountains Forest, and the Eastern Rockies/Great Plains regions.

The team showed that we may experience shorter springs and warmer summers that in turn would mean prolonged periods of wildfire activity. According to the study, the combination of a longer fire season and an increase in the acreage burned could have impacts far beyond the immediate fire zone, negatively affecting visibility in national parks and wilderness areas and worsening the air quality.

Results of the study have been published online in the scientific journal Atmospheric Environment.

Although a number of wildfire smoke forecasting methods are available, there is no systematic program aimed to lessen the public health burden in nearby communities. In another study, EPA scientists are evaluating the possibility of using smoke forecasts to help societies cope with and recover from wildfires. Understanding how climate change impacts the frequency and severity of wildfires, and in turn our environment and health, is one of the Agency’s priorities and an issue we should all be concerned about.

About the Author: Krystnell A. Storr is a student services contractor working on the Science Communications Team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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