Celebrate the 100th Birthday of the National Park Service

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By Delia Engstrom

South Valley Bridge is located in Prince William Forest.

South Valley Bridge is located in Prince William Forest.

You’re invited to a birthday party! Don’t worry about buying a gift or leaving room for cake. Instead lace up your hiking shoes, grab a water bottle and celebrate the great outdoors as the National Park Service turns 100.

Plenty of party venue options are available in Virginia. The Commonwealth is home to 22 designated National Parks and with two locations within our county, Prince William Forest Park and Manassas National Battlefield, you don’t have to travel far to commemorate this occasion.

Officially 100 years old on August 25, the National Park Service (NPS) was born in 1916 when President Woodrow Wilson signed the Organic Act, a bill mandating that “the Service thus established shall promote and regulate the use of the Federal areas known as national parks, monuments and reservations…by such means and measures as conform to the fundamental purpose of the said parks, monuments and reservations, which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

At the time the NPS was in its infancy, the area now known as Prince William Forest Park was actually two towns, Batestown and Hickory Ridge. Many of the residents were farmers who also worked at the nearby Cabin Creek Pyrite Mine. Located along Quantico Creek, the mine was formed in 1908 and had been newly acquired by American Agricultural Chemical Company in 1916. An integrated workplace, unlike the segregated town of Dumfries, workers at the mine put in 12-hour days, earning between three and four dollars a day. With the ammunition demands of World War I, the Cabin Creek mine contributed to the war effort by supplying the sulfur necessary for gunpowder.

At the time of the signing of the Organic Act, over 50 years had passed since the historic Civil War battles took place in the western end of the county in 1861 and 1862. Local community leader and Union veteran George Carr Round fought tirelessly for preservation of the Bull Run battlefields in Manassas. In 1911 he spearheaded the popular Manassas Peace Jubilee, which brought together Union and Confederate soldiers for a reunion of once opposing sides. He led negotiations between local land owners and the government in hopes of the acreage and buildings being acquired for preservation. However, focus on WWI led to money being spent on current conflicts versus preserving past ones.

Years later when the National Park Service was entering into adulthood, the United States was in the midst of the Great Depression. President Roosevelt’s Recreational Demonstration Area program was underway as part of New Deal federal relief efforts seeking to provide much-needed employment while helping to establish parks. Jobs were created under RDA, and work was completed by employees of the Civilian Conservation Corps and Works Progress Administration.

Prince William Forest Park is full of tranquil streams and scenery to enjoy.

Prince William Forest Park is full of tranquil streams and scenery to enjoy.

Years of restoration and beautification efforts of the CCC and WPA resulted in the Bull Run Battle sites receiving official NPS designation as Manassas Battlefield Park in 1940. On the eastern end of the county, workers had been busy at the fourth largest RDA site in the United States, Chopawamsic Recreational Demonstration Area. Opened in 1936, it was a peaceful retreat close to DC where area youth could experience nature. In 1942 the Office of Strategic Services, the country’s first centralized intelligence agency, took over Chopawamsic to train military and civilians to be spies during WWII. In 1948 after OSS operations had ended, the area officially became Prince William Forest Park.

NPS turned 50 in the mid-1960s, and its focus turned from solely preserving the nation’s natural beauty to making the parks more accessible to the public. President Johnson was a huge proponent of the National Park Service and added 50 new National Park units and expanded existing ones in an effort to share and showcase the wonders of our nation. Statistics show that Prince William Forest Park and Manassas National Battlefield both report an increase in visitors around that time with continued growth in attendance for many years after. Both parks draw between 500,000 and one million visitors annually to Prince William County.

Party preparations began for the centennial celebration in 2006. The National Park Centennial Initiative was launched to gather as much insight from park employees, citizens and experts in order to set future goals. Findings were shared in a report that was presented to President Bush and the public entitled “The Future of America’s National Parks.” Objectives were outlined and park leaders used them to implement strategies at their own locations to further the mission of NPS. Much like earlier visions for the NPS, the plan for the next century includes preserving areas and sharing them with the public.

PWFP Park Ranger Chris Alford encourages residents to visit: “There is so much about our park that is hidden. The cultural history here is a large part of why Prince William Forest Park exists as an NPS unit, but when you combine it with the natural setting, it is definitely a special place.” The main entrance to the park is located at Joplin Road in Triangle. Open from sunrise to sunset, admission is $7 per vehicle.

For those interested in military history and an appreciation of scenic vistas, Manassas Battlefield Park is located at 6511 Sudley Road and is open dawn to dusk. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated.

Visit Manassas Battlefield Park and Prince William Forest Park and make a wish for the future of the National Park Service and then blow out the candles. And like any good party guest, take only photos and don’t leave a mess.

Delia Engstrom (dengstrom@princewilliamliving.com) is a writer and photographer who has called Prince William County home since moving here in 2011 with her husband, children and pets.

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