From its beginnings the US government has designated land for public use. In 1790, land for Washington, D.C., was set aside for the building of the country’s capitol. Then, in 1832, the Hot Springs Reservation was established in Arkansas. During the Civil War, President Lincoln took time on June 30, 1864 to sign a Senate bill that gave Yosemite Valley to California for “public use, resort, and recreation.” With concern about historic sites that were being destroyed or vandalized, Congress passed the Preservation of American Antiquities Act in 1906. This law made it illegal to damage historic properties and gave the president the authority to proclaim landmarks, historic structures, or objects of scientific interest as national monuments. In 1916, the National Park Service was created. To see when all the different places were brought into the system, look at the National Park Service’s historical timeline.

Summer is a perfect time to visit a national park, national monument, or historical site. For those who live in Baltimore there is Fort McHenry– a National Monument and Historic Shrine — only a 7-mile trip from the Homewood Campus. This year begins the bicentennial of the War of 1812, so there will be lots of extra activities at the fort. To learn more about the war read the highly acclaimed The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict by historian Donald Hickey, editor of the Johns Hopkins Books on the War of 1812 Series.

If you plan to travel farther away, look at the list of parks (there are 58 National Parks) and other places on the National Park Service web site and choose from the 397 places there are to visit. The Service also has an interactive map of the U.S. where you can click on a state and see what it has to offer. If you have only time to be an armchair-traveler watch Ken Burns documentary — National Parks: America’s Best Idea (soon to be acquired by the library). Enjoy the summer!

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