The New National Parks: An Insider's Guide

You probably heard that earlier this week, President Obama signed executive orders creating five new National Monuments, three in the East that will be run by the National Park Service and two out West that will remain under Bureau of Land Management jurisdiction. Unlike a National Park, which requires an act of Congress to create, a National Monument only requires a presidential proclamation. The designation offers new, more permanent protections to the lands covered, and should afford them more attention from the public. Four of the five monuments—Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad NM, San Juan Islands NM, First State NM and Rio Grande Del Norte NM—offer active people some great new recreational opportunities, including high desert hiking, sea kayaking, mountain biking and unparalleled wildlife viewing. Check them out below.

(Flickr/U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)

Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument
Dorchester County, Maryland
This new monument encompasses a 25,000-acre patchwork of federal, state, and private lands that are significant to Harriet Tubman's early years—including forests, marshland and waterways that are, for the most part, unchanged since her time—and evoke her life while enslaved and as a conductor of the Underground Railroad. Though there are no park facilities currently in place, included in the monument is Joseph Stewart's Canal and a significant portion of the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. Stewart's Canal offers paddlers calm, protected waters that are wildlife-rich, as it links the Blackwater Refuge to the broad, open waters of Chesapeake Bay. The Refuge itself is a vast tidal marsh that's scattered with evergreen and deciduous forests. It's frequented by more than 250 bird species, and is home to bald eagles, ospreys, deer, turtles and the endangered Delmarva fox squirrel. To get close to the wildlife, head out on five miles of hiking trails, or put in on the approximately 25 miles of paddling trails, which, in the fall, offer paddlers unfettered viewing of tens of thousands of migratory birds.



San Juan Islands National Monument
San Juan Islands, Washington
The new monument here encompasses nearly 1,000 acres, but spread out over 75 different sites including dozens of small islands and reefs that serve as breeding grounds for birds and safe refuges for rare plants, harbor seal pups and other creatures of this rich marine habitat. There are also historic lighthouses and scenic recreation destinations that include hiking trails, excellent wildlife viewing opportunities and campsites. The best way to take in the scenic beauty of so many separate locales is to do some self-supported sea kayak touring on the Cascadia Marine Trail, or get set up with a local outfitter, like award-winning Outdoor Odysseys.



First State National Monument
New Castle, Dover and Wilmington, DE
The First State National Monument—Delaware's first unit of the National Park Service—is spread out over three locations important to the state's history, but only one, the Woodlawn section near Wilmington is of any real recreational value. Set on 2,000 acres of Brandywine Valley land, Woodlawn is a bucolic mosaic of farm fields and forests, sprinkled with old farmsteads and bridges and crisscrossed by multiuse trails for biking, hiking and horseback riding.


(Flickr/Bureau of Land Management)

Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument
Northern New Mexico
By far the biggest new national monument, Rio Grande Del Norte encompasses a 240,000-acre swath of northern New Mexico around the Rio Grande Gorge that includes rugged, wide-open plains dotted with volcanic cones. The gorge's whitewater rapids, already protected by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, are popular with rafters and kayakers, and 10,093-foot Ute Mountain—the tallest of the volcanic cones—is a popular destination. This area is on the Rio Grande Migratory Flyway, which means that birds-of-prey nest along the gorge walls and countless other birds, like herons, merlins, hummingbirds and sandhill cranes, pass through during fall and spring migrations. The plains are also rich with wildlife, harboring bears, elk, cougars, pronghorn and bighorn sheep. The new monument is rich with recreational opportunities, including miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, five campgrounds, and great fishing in the cold, pristine waters of the Rio Grande.

The fifth new national monument is Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers Nat'l Monument in Wilberforce, Ohio, which includes little more than Young's homestead.