Piscataway Voices: Sharing Cultural Connections

An introduction to Piscataway Voices, a three-part blog series that shares the heritage and culture of Maryland’s Native people — Piscataway — and the individual perspectives of Native people, their relationship to land, stewardship, and each other.

Piscataway Park welcomes visitors all year to experience the history and present day culture of Maryland's Native people.

Piscataway Park welcomes visitors all year to experience an indigenous cultural landscape which invokes the spirit, history, and present day culture of Maryland’s Native people.

Seven years ago, when I arrived at 3400 Bryan Point Road in Accokeek for the very first time I thought, “this is a special place; this feels like home.” At the time I didn’t fully understand why I felt a connection to this place, but I do now. It IS home.

Arriving at work in Piscataway Park every day, I am reminded of my own heritage and culture, and of the significance of this land as a part of the traditional homeland of the Piscataway people — my ancestors. Through my work here, I’ve had the honor to become deeply involved in the telling of Piscataway stories. I’ve worked on a team to develop a traveling exhibit based on oral histories from several Piscataway elders, including my own grandparents! I’ve met scholars and experts in the field of archaeology and indigenous cultural landscapes. I’ve even reconnected with long lost friends and family. I’m beginning to immerse myself into the study of ethnobotany as I explore more ways to tell the stories of my cultural connection to the land.

Knowing that we all have special connections to the places where we live, work, and visit, I want to share more stories about how Native people, and more specifically Piscataway, connect with their culture and the land. To share these stories of stewardship, cultural celebrations, sharing, and reciprocity, and to honor my Native American heritage, I invited my Piscataway sisters and brother to tell you their stories. These are their stories, as told in their own voice. These are Piscataway Voices:

A Homecoming Story by Chris Newman, Piscataway Conoy
The Benefit of Piscataway People to Maryland: It’s Time for Reciprocity by Cryz Proctor, Piscataway Conoy
Honoring Full Circle by Gabrielle Tayac, Piscataway Indian Nation




Piscataway Voices: A Homecoming Story

Piscataway Voices, Part 1 of 3

written by Chris Newman; Choptico Band, Piscataway Conoy; General Manager, Sylvanaqua Farms

Chris Newman stewards the land as a Native farmer. Photo by Sylvanaqua Farms.

“Haha, no I don’t think so.”

This was the lighthearted but decidedly serious response of a good friend of mine when I suggested to his five year old son that, one day, he might be a farmer. The little boy did what all little boys (and little girls) do when they visit an old-school livestock farm: he fell in love. A warm summer sun, the sweet smell of grass, and a shade tree to lounge under while watching animals happily cluck, oink, quack, and grunt in the fields and forests… those things produce a sense of peace and satisfaction that invades your bones and infuses your soul with an elusive kind of happiness. Most people in America will toil away for a lifetime under fluorescent lights, squirreling away a nest egg in the hopes of one day, in the twilight of their years, reclaiming the inner peace of a toddler.

A recent volunteer at our farm made a very salient point. “You say you want to farm for a living, and you might as well say you want to paint oil canvasses for a living. People look at you the same way.”  Young farmers, like young artists, are widely viewed as self-indulgent millennial hipsters avoiding real work and adulthood. Their line of work is one where success is possible but highly improbable; where Picasso and Polyface are impossible economic outliers. The common logic says it’s much better to be “realistic,” which today means taking on six figures in student loan debt to enter a Thunderdome of a workforce; one where Ph.Ds claw one another’s eyes out competing for jobs paying $20 an hour. Parents like the one that visited my farm will tell their kids, “go to college, get a job.” Farming is a hobby best left for your golden years.

That attitude is a whole pile of nonsense. Stewarding the land is the future – economically, ecologically, and socially. This is particularly true for young people of color, and perhaps most of all for young Native people.

Too many writings on Native American Heritage Month are about the past: ancient traditions and historical figures and bold pronouncements about being the ‘first Americans’ and cathartic waxings on Caucasian depredation, all distilled into an anthology – equal parts depressing, enraging, and yawn-inducing – about how exciting it is that our culture isn’t quite dead yet. So let’s instead talk about the future, why young Native people should look for it in the land, and how freaking awesome that is. And while we do, let’s close our ears to our well-intended doubts, fears, prejudices, and projections, even if just for this little while.

Farming is profitable as long as you start small and in the space you already have access to. There are people grossing $80,000 a year in 1,000 square foot greenhouses selling organic microgreens. You can sell produce to practically any upscale restaurant at any time. Literally all of your neighbors would rather buy salad mixes from you than the grocery store. Have you seen the price of basil and mint? You can grow basil and mint, right now, anywhere: on your balcony, on your walls, in your basement, in your yard, on your kitchen counter, in your garage. You can grow herbs in your bathroom and, if you’ve got a bathtub nobody ever uses, you can grow daikons or carrots in it.

Despite what you may have heard, farming does not necessarily mean uprooting your life, buying a hundred acres and pieces of heavy equipment in the middle of nowhere with an ungodly amount of debt, leaving your friends and family, and praying for rain. What it more likely means is this: you start by growing as much stuff in your own home as possible, and sell it to your neighbors until it’s profitable. Then you expand to maybe your yard, or someone else’s yard, or an abandoned city lot. You sell that stuff to more neighbors and maybe a restaurant or two. You keep socking money away. Then maybe you add a few other things that do well in urban settings, like egg laying hens or bees. Sooner than you realize, you’ll find yourself making a living farming without an acre of land or a single tractor to your name.

Maybe, and ideally, you’ll get to the point where you decide to move further out, building acres of food forests and pastures to feed people, restore the land, battle climate change, and give your family and friends an idyllic place to live and work. There’s no higher calling for a Native person than to return to our lands – to the blood and bones of our ancestors – and restore them to health along with those whose faces remain above the ground. And given the enormous demand for this kind of food relative to the tiny amount of it being produced (this is what happens when most of the supply is coming from “prudent” retirees in their golden years), the economics of smallholding will be sound for decades or longer.

Young people that want to farm this way will be entering a business that involves almost no debt, can become profitable in a single year, and has an insatiable demand for a product that can never become obsolete. It’s a workplace with no commutes, no cubicles, no status meetings, no performance reviews, and no office politics. It’s a lifestyle that involves constant physical activity, time outdoors, no need for gym memberships, less need for drugs and doctors, the best food in the world, and the greatest work-life balance of any industry. For the life of me, I can’t understand why parents don’t aggressively insist their children become farmers.

Take time during this month to remember what’s come before. Remember and honor the old ones, our traditions, our values, and the events – good and bad – that have shaped who were are as a people. But ultimately, our past, present, and future are all wrapped up in the land, as they’ve always been. Today, the land and the ancestors dwelling within are calling for us. It’s time to come home.

hogs - coming home - chris newman

Pasture raised hogs at Sylvanaqua Farms near Charlottesville, Virginia.


Piscataway Voices: Honoring Full Circle

Piscataway Voices, Part 3 of 3

written by Gabrielle Tayac, Piscataway Indian Nation

Gabrielle Tayac visits ancestral burial site in Piscataway Park. Photo by Edwin Remsberg.

Gabrielle Tayac visits ancestral burial site in Piscataway Park. Photo by Edwin Remsberg, www.remsberg.com

Golden autumn light, amplified through glowing leaves, cast surprisingly unseasonal warmth upon me as I took the deliberate steps in the annual procession during the Piscataway Feast of the Dead Ceremony. Just up the road from the National Colonial Farm lies one of the most significant ancient and historical sites in the DC area that Piscataway people call Moyaone, also known as the Accokeek Creek Site in Piscataway Park.

Here we gather every November with family and dear friends, some from other tribes and many from diverse backgrounds, to honor and recall our beloved ancestors both long gone or newly departed. In this mostly unknown sacred site, we have a few hours to walk along the unseen. Feast of the Dead is a centuries old spiritual practice. It existed in a variety of forms throughout the Eastern Woodlands and persists still within a few Native American communities in the Northeast. Far to the south, with great imperial pomp and festivity, the Aztecs conducted month-long ceremonies for the departed. Their tradition merged with Catholicism after the Spanish invasion and is now known as Dia de los Muertos on November 1. Likely because the Piscataway were converted to Catholicism in 1640, we have also set the ceremonial date loosely around All Soul’s Day.

Indigenous people inhabited the perfect Potomac riverside location at Moyaone for thousands of years, relating to the rich tidal biosphere and creating a succession of cultures on the land. Centuries ago, likely around 1200 AD, things changed. A leader named Uttapoingassanem brought a new way of life to the region, constructing large towns and uniting smaller tribes into a chiefdom. When Captain John Smith mapped the region in 1608 in exploratory forays from Jamestown, he noted Moyaone as a chief’s town. And so it was – the palisaded capital of the Piscataway people until it was burned during conflicts of the Anglo-Powhatan wars.

The Piscataway never forgot their cherished capital, a place once thriving with cornfields, longhouses, and accompanied by the long line of ancestors buried throughout the landscape. The Piscataway buried their dead together in ossuaries during the Feast of the Dead ceremonies for centuries – a people collective in life, they would be a people collective in the Spirit World.

In today’s world, and indeed since the 18th century, Piscataway bury their loved ones in cemeteries much like other Marylanders. One man though, the late Chief Turkey Tayac, my grandfather, wanted to reconnect a new generation of Piscataway directly to the ancestors sleeping at Moyaone. Through an Act of Congress in 1979, one year after his death, Chief Tayac’s wish was fulfilled. He was buried in the ossuary of the old ones, under a red cedar that we now call the Tree of Life that would be a channel from the ancestral remains to the living to the Creator.

It is to this very place, the Tree of Life at Moyaone, that we make a ceremonial march to every year. Accompanied by song and drumbeat, holding small bundles that represent every deceased person that we want to remember that year, we walk a path of prayer and reconciliation. We stop four times at different points, one for each direction, reflective but not sad, along with our children and elders. And every year as I get well into middle-age, I realize that there are more friends and family in whose footsteps I tread, but that they are not with me in life anymore. They are in the bundles, held to my heart as we walk further to the tree.

The cedar tree represents the Tree of Life, where annually Piscataway tribal members convene for a Feast of the Dead celebration in remembrance of the loved ones lost. Photo by Edwin Remsberg, www.remsberg.com.

The cedar tree represents the Tree of Life, where annually Piscataway tribal members convene for a Feast of the Dead celebration in remembrance of the loved ones lost. Photo by Edwin Remsberg, www.remsberg.com.

When the procession arrives at the Tree of Life, we form a half circle on the east side. For the second half of the circle, the one to the west, the one that extends into the Potomac River, is reserved for the spirits. Together we make one circle: Native people, people of all faiths and ethnicities who we are connected to in the past and present. We are unified.

One by one or in family groups, we speak the names of those passed on, tell jokes and stories about them, speak to them a little while. Maybe there are apologies owed. Maybe there was somebody we had to say, “I love you” to one more time. Then we tie the bundles on to the tree so that when the wind blows it carries the message to the Spirit World through our loved ones.

After everyone has tied their bundles, we balance out reflection with feasting. Hosted in the cheerful Education building at the Accokeek Foundation there is much visiting, banter, and yes, always gossip. For a while, we as Piscataway people are back in our ancient home, with our ancestors and with the living. That is how we come full circle.

The Benefit of Piscataway People to Maryland: It’s Time for Reciprocity

Piscataway Voices; Part 2 of 3

written by Cryz Nkechehosi Proctor; Wild Turkey Clan, Cedarville Band of the Piscatawy Conoy

Wild Turkey Clan mother, Gladys Procter and her family pose with Governor O'Malley during the 2012 Piscataway recognition.

Wild Turkey Clan mother, Gladys Procter and her family pose with Governor Martin O’Malley during the 2012 Piscataway recognition.

Growing up as an active member of the Wild Turkey Clan, Cedarville Band of the Piscataway Conoy, I have witnessed and participated in decades of petitioning the state of Maryland to be validated in saying we are who we have always known ourselves to be; the descendants of the Piscataway. Piscataway, in existence by some archaeological estimates for 24,000 years, is the largest Native Nation and head of the 2nd largest confederacy of the Chesapeake region. Within these years I internalized the dedication of our Elders in their efforts to right the wrongs for our people. After many attempts, in 2012 we finally received the state recognition to claim who we have been – long before the English traveled up the Potomac to discover us. Thus, 2012 ushered in a new wave of opportunities as well as exploitation of my people.

As a young child, I watched and was coached in a resurgence of our culture and philosophies. Tight-knit families (bonded together by ancestral exclusivity and historic traumas) created councils, built a museum and cultural center and filled these spaces with programming to build our community up. These efforts were Piscataway community-funded and maintained. Then, I watched helplessly, as a beautiful, strong and knowledgeable people succumbed to internal and public struggle, emotional turmoil and collusion. It would have been a blessing, a relief, a revitalization and proper for us to have received the support of local nonprofits, culture, education and preservation organizations, and government officials who benefited from our history and lives. Many organizations still today benefit from the name, struggles, bones, artifacts, lands, waters and stories of our ancestors. Many want to benefit from the mystique of an ancient people while failing to create reciprocal relationships with those descendants who are still living and rightfully representing Eastern Woodland Native communities. As the inherited 5th generation clan mother, two-spirit healer, and co-chair of the Cedarville Band of the Piscataway, Inc., my life’s work has been and will remain to see my ancestors raised back to their rightful place, to be an advocate for Earth Mother and to be a culture bearer. Mostly, I want to leave a legacy (with actual benefits) that the next generations can prosper from. We are still here and we will continue to share our own stories to rebuild what was lost. To reclaim what we have allowed to be exploited will not be an easy task but it is one that I am willing to spend my lifetime to change.

I am the Executive Producer of a Piscataway designed and facilitated mobile program: Living the American Indian Experience (LAIE). Via several public program models under the LAIE umbrella, we reach young children, students, professionals and the general public as well as partner with existing museums, parks, education systems, governmental agencies and nonprofits to share our culture and history. We do this with emphasis on culturally appropriate and historically accurate ways which employ and benefit tribal members while helping to eradicate long-withstanding stereotypes about Native peoples. In our first season of operation this year, we have reached over 10,000 people and are repairing long-strained relationships. If you are interested in reserving our services or partnering with us in a reciprocal and mutually respectful way, please inquire via our website at: www.piscatawayindians.com.

Teens Spend Summer Learning Ecology by Farming

photo by Andrea Jones, Accokeek Foundation

ACC teen program interns showcase what they learned during an end of season celebration for families, friends, and school administrators. (photo by Andrea Jones, Accokeek Foundation)

According to Shakespeare, parting is such sweet sorrow. This was certainly the case as we said farewell to the first class of the newly launched Agriculture Conservation Corps (ACC) program this August. In collaboration with Prince George’s County’s William S. Schmidt Outdoor Education Center, the Accokeek Foundation developed a 7-week program to introduce area youth to different aspects of agriculture, from animal husbandry to production farming, all while providing a local historical context.

Tyler Reid, 15, shares her experiences on the farm. (photo by Anjela Barnes, Accokeek Foundation)

Tyler Reid, 15, shares her experiences on the farm. (photo by Anjela Barnes, Accokeek Foundation)

Nine teens, from Gwynn Park High School and Oxon Hill High School, spent their summer vacation learning more than just farming. They learned where their food comes from and how to prepare nutritious meals using harvested ingredients, about soil nutrient management and ecology, how to be caretakers of the land, and most importantly about community. “It’s a good program for people who want to get into the science field,” tells Isaiah Nance, a student from Gwynn Park considering a major in marine biology. “I learned about different plants and how to identify the plants.” Tyler Reid, another Gwynn Park student, shares how learning to build wattle fencing and trellises helped her to think more creatively in order to shape the branches and limbs to support the growing beans and squash vines. These experiences provided an interdisciplinary perspective on agriculture and sustainability.

The ACC program will be evaluated and expanded for the 2016 season, with spring and summer sessions available for students. The Accokeek Foundation is a nonprofit education organization that stewards 200 acres of Piscataway Park in Accokeek, Maryland. Its mission is to cultivate a passion for the natural and cultural heritage of Piscataway Park and commitment to stewardship and sustainability. The ACC is one of its many educational programs that integrates environmental sustainability with history for better understanding of human’s impact on the land.


Trail Treks: Pawpaws in Piscataway Park

As summer heats up, the forested Pawpaw Trail provides welcome shade from the sun. Tulip trees, oaks, and sycamores stand tall, but the trail would not be complete without an appearance by the tree that bears its name. Its long, thin trunk looks silver in the shade. Its oblong leaves bring to mind the tropics. And its light green fruit hangs too often just out of reach. It is the pawpaw.

Often translated to mean place of the wild fruit, referring to the pawpaw, Accokeek itself is beholden to this native North American tree. The plant whose name is so fun to say runs rampant through Piscataway Park, setting down roots in moist soil and spreading in groves in the lower levels of the forest.

The plant provides food to both animals and humans alike, in the form of soft fruit that ripens in the fall and tastes like a banana and mango cross. Native Americans and European pioneers valued the pawpaw as a wild source of food. George Washington ate chilled pawpaws for dessert, and Thomas Jefferson planted the tree at Monticello. And countless Appalachian folk singers have reminisced about time spent way down yonder in the pawpaw patch.

A light green pawpaw grows along the Pawpaw Trail.

A light green pawpaw grows along the Pawpaw Trail.

Today, the fruit has experienced a resurgence in retail popularity. An  NPR segment on this “forgotten fruit” explores the pawpaw’s recent commercialization, due in large part to plant scientist Neal Peterson. Peterson, inspired in 1975 by a taste of the fruit on a West Virginia hike, has spent more than three decades breeding the plant. Now, six Peterson Pawpaw varieties are being grown in orchards and sold at markets.

While the pawpaw is said to make excellent beer and even better wine, less adventurous eaters can still enjoy the fruit baked into bread or muffins or eaten raw. If you find one, take a bite, and savor the rich custard-like history of one of our favorite native fruits.

8 Reasons Why Growing Up On the Chesapeake is the Best Way to Grow Up

Everyone here at the foundation has a piece of our mission that particularly resonates with them. It’s the reason they come to work in the morning, and the reason they feel good about their job even after a hard day. For some it’s food justice and providing fresh food to the community, for some it’s the culture and history of this place, and for others it’s educating local students and the public. But for me, it’s the park. It’s this beautiful, peaceful piece of shoreline. And it’s the river.

Recently, staff members were asked to think about how we would define sustainability. What does it mean to us? Why do we think it’s important? And in my mind those answers are put into the context of the river, because the Chesapeake and its waterways run through every part of my life. To me, sustainability is about protection–protecting resources, protecting people, protecting systems–so that they can stand the test of time. It’s about protecting the Chesapeake as a resource, and ensuring that those who come after me will also be able to view it as such. It’s about making sure the people and animals who have made a life here can continue to make a life here. It’s about protecting the health of the water so that we can continue to take nourishment from it.

So in honor of protecting a resource as valuable as the Chesapeake or the Potomac, I’ve put together a list of “8 Reasons Why Growing Up On the Chesapeake is the Best Way to Grow Up,” featuring photos from my very own childhood. Enjoy!


1. You learned to tie a boat knot before you could tie your shoes

blog-Boat knot photo

Who even wore shoes in the summer anyways? You weren’t a real boat kid if you didn’t get dock splinters on the bottom of your feet on a regular basis.


2. Fresh seafood is just a pole or net away

blog-fishing pic

Who wants to eat chicken, when you can use that chicken to catch crabs off the dock? Never mind that the catch of the day for my brother and I was usually jellyfish tangled in a net.


3. You can’t have a massive float out in a pool


Don’t have a float? Macgyver one out of noodles and life jackets! The dogs want to come too? Sure, no problem!


4. Life jacket fashion is a way of life


Is that a zebra life jacket with a yarn fringe mane? Why yes, yes it is.


5. If you can’t find an island to hang out at, you can just make your own


Nothing beats a raft out with good friends.


6. You can’t beat the commute


A “traffic jam” on the water beats a traffic jam in the city any day.


7. The landscape is always changing


With the ebb and flow of the tide, you never have the same view twice. And sometimes low tide means new sandbars to explore.


8. There’s always something new to explore

blog-explore pic

To sort of quote Samuel Johnson, when a man (or woman, or child) is tired of the river, he is tired of life.

Take the AF Water Footprint Challenge and Discover the Hidden Cost of the Food We Eat

50 one-gallon buckets represent HALF of the average American's daily water use.

50 one-gallon buckets represent HALF of the average American’s daily water use.

Did you know?

  • Water scarcity affects 2.7 billion people at least once a month, each year? Or that, according a recent government report, within the next 10 years 40 out of 50 states in the U.S. will experience water shortages in some portions of their states? In fact, by 2025 two-thirds of the world’s population may be facing water shortages.
  • A water footprint is the measurement of how much water is used for the products and services we use. In the U.S., household water usage accounts for only 8% of available water. Agriculture, and thus the food we eat, accounts for a whopping 70% of that water!

This is why, this June, through our Time Travel Adventure weekend interpretive program at the National Colonial Farm, we’re asking visitors, “What’s Your Water Footprint?” All month, visitors will explore how American water usage has changed since the 1770s, and learn about the hidden costs of our favorite foods as they discover exactly how much water is on their plates.

This video about the Best & Worst Foods for California’s Drought explains the relationship between food and water usage a bit more.

To take the message a little further, Accokeek Foundation staff has made a commitment to take the AF Water Footprint Challenge. Together, for one month, we are giving up some of our favorite foods — chocolate, coffee, almond milk, cheese, beef, nuts, and olive oil — as an experiment to test both our individual and collective water footprint based on the daily food choices we make.

For instance, I’ve chosen to give up coffee for one month. Gasp! Right, I know. But it really wasn’t that hard of a decision for me. Coffee is a joyous part of my morning routine. I enjoy waking up, steeping and pressing a fresh carafe, and sipping that first cup slowly while I read the day’s news and emails. Giving up this daily wake-up ritual was the hard part and not the coffee itself. Either way, by giving up coffee I estimate that I will conserve approximately 1,056 gallons of water per gallon of brewed coffee according to this article. This is pretty impressive considering that the average American uses 2,000 gallons of water each day!


By taking the challenge as a staff, collectively we estimate that we will save 9,371 gallons of water by the end of the month — just by changing one daily food habit. Seems to be a small sacrifice for the greater common good, don’t you think?

Will you join us in taking the AF Water Footprint Challenge? If so, tell us which food choice you’ve chosen to sacrifice and why. We’ll share our successes (and obstacles) throughout the month, and would love to hear from you as well!

Sustainability for the Next Generation

kids hands

“[My visit] made me more mindful of the products I am using
and where I use it or dispose of it.”

Merriam-Webster gives three definitions for sustainability:

  1. able to be used without being completely used up or destroyed
  2. involving methods that do not completely use up or destroy natural resources
  3. able to last or continue for a long time

At the Foundation, we spend a lot of time talking – with our visitors, at events, on the blog, just in the office over lunch – about definitions 1 and 2. We talk about the products we use and our farming methods, and how those products and methods are sustainable, how they help us fulfill our mission of stewardship and sustainability of this place that we love. We teach people how to lead more sustainable lives through their actions.

To me, though, the key to sustainability – and Merriam-Webster’s definition 3 – is capturing the hearts and minds of the children who visit us. The only way to truly make change sustainable is to carry it over into the next generation.

“I started recycling more and turning off more lights.”

underspaceThe quotes in this post came from high school students when asked if they changed any of their personal habits after visiting us on a field trip. Their class had explored the environmental cost of different modern objects – plastics, pesticides, batteries, for example – compared to their colonial alternatives, and then discussed changes they could make in their own lives to be more eco-friendly.

My position as museum interpreter means I get to spend a lot of my time on the ground, talking to people. I spend my weekends on the Colonial Farm interacting with visitors of all ages, and my weekdays leading students on school tours, and in both I get to teach a combination of history and environmental science (you can read more about our unique style of weekend interpretation here, and our school tours here).


“We stopped using styrofoam cups.”

Working so closely with children means I get to planting rice
watch their green evolution. Most kids come to us with an idea about how to save the earth – they know about recycling, and picking up litter, and maybe a little bit about pesticides or saving water. But I find that kids often think about these issues in the big picture and less about how their own individual actions contribute to the problem. They know in theory that disposable styrofoam cups are terrible for the environment, but then they think “well, I’m only using one, so that’s not a big deal” (just like adults, huh?). By the end of their time with me, I want them to realize that each decision they make has an impact.

“It’s hard to convince your parents to change their habits
when they have been doing the same thing for years.”

rotational grazing


Humans are creatures of habit, and as the saying go, old habits die hard. It’s difficult to start recycling, for example, if you’ve never done it before in your life. Teaching children from the very beginning about the impact of their actions, and creating a lifetime habit of making positive choices, is what sustainability is all about.


“I became more aware of how something may seem harmless but it can have really bad consequences.”

eco-explorers and cate I don’t expect my students to go home and immediately throw out all of the items they have that are not environmentally friendly. I don’t want them to start policing their parents’ and friends’ behavior. Most importantly, I don’t want to instill in them a sense of guilt over decisions they’ve made in the past. What I want all children to walk away with is an understanding of the importance of environmentally-friendly choices, an ability to think critically about the choices they make, and a starting point for future conversations with the people in their lives.

“I talked to my family about how important recycling is,
and how it will help preserve land for future generations.”

All it takes is one moment to instill a lifelong passion for the planet in the mind of a child – whether that moment comes from convincing historical characters to make eco-friendly choices on a field trip, or playing a game about rotational grazing at an event to learn about sustainable farming practices, or planting seeds on the eco-farm, or just having a face-to-face and heart-to-heart interaction with a farm animal. For me, holding a child’s hand to walk him or her through those moments as they happen is one of the best parts of working here at the Foundation.

sheep and kids

The day the National Park Service was born.

PresRooseveltJohnMuir250Two men stood atop a mountain ridge, amongst snow-kissed passes, sharing their vision of a national system of parks that would offer the country “places for rest, inspiration, and prayers.” The year was 1903, and those two fellas were President Theodore Roosevelt and Sierra Club co-founder, John Muir. Thirteen years later their vision was realized.

Muir, born on this date in 1838, was one of America’s most celebrated naturalists. He had a vision making him known as the “Father of the National Park Service.”

Had it not been for visionaries like Roosevelt and Muir, and the countless others that followed in their footsteps, the places we treasure like Yosemite and the Everglades–or lesser known, yet equally treasured places like Piscataway Park–may have been lost to development or “progress.” Because of their passion, millions of visitors to the more than 400 national park lands not only enjoy the peace and serenity that these special places provide, but also have a space to get outside and be active.

muir quoteAs President Obama stated in his Presidential Proclamation in honor of National Park Week yesterday, “these places reflect our heritage and help tell the stories about giants of our history and extraordinary chapters of our past…. they offer something for everyone, and chances are, there is a National Park closer to you than you think.” Discovering these special places is what the NPS wants you to do. This is the purpose behind the new #FindYourPark campaign, launched a few weeks ago to kick-off a year of celebration in advance of its big 100 year anniversary next August.

This year, as you plan your family vacations or weekend day trips, think National Parks. Take in these natural wonders, learn something new about our heritage and history. You don’t even have to go very far. Whether its the vivid autumnal tints of Shenandoah’s Skyline Drive, kayaking over the Potomac’s Great Falls, or staring in awe at the wild beauty of the Assateague Island ponies, a National Park is only a short drive away.

Be inspired by John Muir: Grab a buddy. Get out there. Find your park. And discover something wild!