Americans associate the great national park experience with the west. The reason for this is that the national park movement and our desire to preserve other public lands came at a time when the west was not yet settled (by Europeans). The only lands left to reserve were western lands. Thus we associate the national park experience with large expanses of relatively untouched natural beauty. The irony is that we had to kick the Native Americans out of Yellowstone Park in order to create this experience for ourselves—Americans know that parks do not include people.
I once attended a British geography meeting that stretched my imagination when it came to a national park. Several of my American colleagues and I joined a fieldtrip to a national park near Sheffield. The British guide drove us up into a beautiful area of higher elevation of heather, sheep, and a quaint and perfect village. Parks are essentially regions with land-use restrictions in Britain. They include people, economic activities, and are privately owned but restricted in uses. Since it was January, and gale-force winds were blowing, we longingly looked out the window of the bus as we passed the local pub in the picture perfect village.
Exhibiting typical British scorn for anything even close to central heat, our guide took us up a hillside to view the landscape. We held on to each other in order to keep our footing against the wind. The sheep were nowhere to be seen and the heather would not bloom until August. We three Americans managed to convince the guide to let a small group cut their hike short and meet the rest of the group in the village later on. We walked through the stone-buildings of the village and my two American colleagues stopped and bought Blue John Stone jewelry for their wives, a specialty of the area, before going into the pub to warm up. Once we rejoined the larger group and were on the bus, the guide looked directly at us and made a comment on how utterly tacky the village was (we were thinking—have you ever seen Mammoth Cave or Wall Drug???). And then with distain the guide said, “And I hope that none of you bought Blue John Stone!” I pursed my lips and shook my head while my colleagues pushed their packages lower on the seat—the British know that you don’t go to a park to shop or stay warm.
Today I went to a Maudslay State Park on the Merrimack River, near me in Massachusetts. I also walk at Bradley Palmer State Park just down the road from my house on a regular basis. With my sample of two of two state parks, I would say that Massachusetts state parks are old estates. Clearly there were no extensive tracks of public land to be set aside for parks so this makes sense. As I was walking along the hiking trail in the woods this morning, several people stopped me and asked—do you know where the formal gardens are? Residents of Massachusetts know that state parks have abandoned carriage houses, lanes lined by rhododendrons and perhaps what is left of a formal garden.