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October 18th, 2017

Passion for Parks: Springtime in the Parks

By Helen Hossley
For many of us this time of year, we get a little impatient waiting for spring to arrive. The March snowstorms dampen our spirits a bit and we are tired of shoveling and driving in snowy conditions. As the sun follows the moon, springtime will happen in the Northeast. I was fortunate to have a wonderful reminder of springtime on my recent visit to Colorado. While most people travel to this beautiful state for the incredible skiing, I was happily attending a 90th birthday party for my dear great-aunt. A couple of days before the main event I took the opportunity to visit the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. These dunes are the largest in North America. The elevation within the park range from 7,515 to 13,604 feet. The dunes start at 8,200 feet rise another 750 feet. Being from the East Coast, it was a challenge to walk up the dunes due to the elevation. Although I didn’t make it to the top of the dunes the time I spent barefoot frolicking in the soft warm sand reinforced my hope in spring-time. A bonus to the trip was knowing that the Sandhill cranes were nearby in the preserve. Estimated to number around 20,000, it was a site to behold!

While we await springtime in Vermont, we can be encouraged by another annual event in our parks, the famous blossoming cherry trees around the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. The cherry trees were a gift of friendship from Japan in 1910. However, the interest in bringing the trees to the United States started in 1885 when a woman named Eliza Scidmore proposed having the trees planted on the newly reclaimed land along the Potomac. The U.S. Army Superintendent of the Office of Buildings and Grounds denied her proposal, as did every Superintendent for the next 24 years. But Eliza Scidmore was persistent. She was a writer and photographer, a traveler to the countries of the Far East and the first female board member of the National Geographic Society. She started fundraising and ran a letter writing campaign, which included a letter to First Lady Mrs. Helen Taft. Getting the attention of the First Lady proved fruitful.

In January 1910, two thousand cherry trees from Japan finally arrived in America, but Eliza’s triumph was short lived. Inspectors declared that the trees were infected. Politically, it was a tricky situation. President Taft had the delicate job of informing the Emperor of Japan that his generous gift of trees were diseased and had to be destroyed to protect American growers. In a magnanimous gesture, the mayor of Tokyo agreed to raise over 3,000 trees cultivated specifically to be hardy, as well as disease and insect free. In March 1912, the new trees arrived in Washington. As she watched the planting, Eliza Scidmore could hardly have imagined what beauty her inspired vision would bring to our country one hundred and five years later.

How many millions of people have enjoyed the gentle beauty of the flowering trees without giving a thought to the person behind the movement to get them planted? How selfless was her gift? She carried on for so many years with little encouragement. And what would Eliza think of the admiring crowds now? I like to think she is smiling with satisfaction.

Helen Hossley was a National Park Ranger and is the author of “Do I Get to Wear That Neat Hat?” To find out more about her book, please visit www.helenhossley.com

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