February 24, 2016

Park Service Centennial celebration starts to pick up steam


The big push of the Centennial is to “connect with and create the next generation of park visitors, supporters, and advocates,” and this goal is effectively broken down into four “Call to Action” categories, which are being orchestrated all across America. These categories are Connecting People to Parks, Advancing the NPS Education Mission, Preserving America's Special Places, and Enhancing Professional and Organizational Excellence, and a number of upcoming events or projects tie into multiple themes or components of this nationwide plan.

So what’s in the works for the big 100-year birthday party? There are a range of events that are already on the calendar, as well as some larger projects that may take some time to implement, but which will hopefully have some big results.
Here’s what’s being planned and orchestrated so far for the Outer Banks Group of national parks that includes Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, and Wright Brothers National Memorial.

One of the first initiatives of the local Park Service is working to qualify the Cape Hatteras National Seashore as a “dark sky park” – an undertaking that was started more than a year ago.

The designation is made by the International Dark Sky Association, www.darksky.org, a non-profit group based in Arizona, and it's hard to achieve. There’s only one other park in the southeast that has this title, and it's in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains. A dark sky park is defined as a park that has “exceptional starry skies,” where light pollution is minimized, and where a natural dark environment is prevalent.

The hope is that the designation will increase visitation to the Cape Hatters National Seashore, especially during the off-season and winter months when, as locals know all too well, the island is particularly dark at night.

In December, the National Park Service hosted a “Starry Skies” program at the Salvo Day Use area, and NPS staff members are planning to hold additional night sky programs throughout the year, including one that’s already scheduled for “Founder’s Day” on Aug. 25, at the Ocracoke Day Use area at 8:30 p.m.

There are multiple phases to obtaining a dark sky park designation, and the first phase – which is conducting a lighting inventory throughout the park – is already complete.
The next step, which is currently underway, entails identifying lights that need to be retro-fitted and updating them accordingly. It may be another year or two before the process is complete, but the massive project is one of the biggest and most ambitious components of the local Centennial Celebration.

Another big project that may take a while to complete, but which has more or less already begun, is the creation of more paddling trails all along the national seashore. The aim is to add paddling trails, complete with launches, at several different locations along the shoreline, including Ocracoke Island, Hatteras Island, and Bodie Island, ensuring that visitors all along the Outer Banks will find a paddling trail close at hand.
The paperwork has been started, but the project is moving slowly because of the number of regulations that must be followed, such as ensuring the site is accessible to the handicapped.
Though there’s not a lot of details yet as to where the sites will eventually be located, the new paddling trails are something for locals and visitors to be on the lookout for in the year to come.

The National Park Service is partnering with the Outer Banks History Center in Manteo to host a year-long exhibit that will highlight events from park histories and showcase the resources of the Outer Banks Group parks.
The opening night reception is on Friday, March 4, from 5:30 until 7:30 p.m., and the public is invited.  The exhibit will run from March 5 - Dec. 31.

The next big event on the calendar is a naturalization ceremony to be held at the Wright Brothers Memorial at 3 p.m. on Saturday, April 16, which is during National Park Week. Though these citizenship ceremonies have been held at other national parks before, this will be the first time one has been held at the Wright Memorial, and the public is welcome to attend.
The NPS is partnering with the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service for this event and is also partnering with local and statewide schools so that students can watch and learn about the process of becoming an American citizen.

On Roanoke Island, the Fort Colony Foundation is planning an archeological dig at the historic Fort Raleigh site, where the Lost Colony was established. The site memorializes the first English settlement in the New World, established in 1587 and eventually abandoned with no survivors ever found.
The hope is that the dig near the earthen fort site will uncover new artifacts from the original settlement, and garner new interest about Fort Raleigh and the Lost Colony itself. The dig, entitled "Project Dogwood," is planned for April 17-23.

Because reaching out to youth to get them more involved is a big part of the Centennial, the NPS has also partnered with the "Lost Colony" outdoor drama in Manteo to extend the fourth grade voucher program. Through this program, fourth graders who fill out an online form receive a voucher for free access to the park of their choice, and The Lost Colony is honoring this initiative as well, by allowing fourth graders with a parent in tow free access to the acclaimed drama with the voucher. The opening night for The Lost Colony is May 27, which is when the season will be officially dedicated to the National Park, and the drama will unveil its new main narrator -- a “park ranger.”
In addition to the kid-centric voucher program, The Lost Colony and Fort Raleigh National Historic Site are also offering a host of other activities in conjunction with the NPS Centennial. The park facilities, which include the visitors’ centers and restrooms, will be open extended hours, to 6:30 p.m., so that play patrons can look around before show time. A number of Junior Ranger and Visitors Center programs are also planned, and a Park Passport stamp and Centennial stamp will be available at the Lost Colony, in addition to the actual national parks on the Outer Banks.

On National Aviation Day, Aug. 19, the Wright Brothers Memorial will be the site of another Centennial event as NASA, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the First Flight Society combine to create a joint celebration. Hands-on activities will be available for kids to learn more about the principles behind aviation and science-based programs or displays are also in the works to make this date stand out on the calendar.

The annual Dec. 17 anniversary of the First Flight at the Wright Brothers Memorial will also be revved up for the Centennial Celebration, with a wide range of speakers, musicians, and descendants of the Wright Brothers scheduled to appear. The Smithsonian Institution will also be involved with the celebration, as well as local community members and the First Flight Society, bringing the world-changing event close to home.

In addition to the programs already on the books, the National Park Service is also encouraging any group or organization that wants to sponsor a program on the seashore – from youth fishing to birdwatching – to contact them for support and guidance on how to proceed. While staff may not be able to be on-hand to assist with the details of the proposed program, groups are welcome to utilize a park site if they have an interest, outing, or project in mind.

More events for the Centennial will be planned throughout the year, and the Island Free Press will continue to monitor the Centennial Celebration and post updates on projects, as well as new happenings that may be on the horizon.

For more information, contact Lynne Belanich, Centennial Coordinator at [email protected].

More information is also available on the National Park Service's Centennial website, http://www.nps.gov/calltoaction/.

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