Beyond Yosemite

The National Park Service (NPS) celebrates its centennial anniversary in the month of August! NPS has served as a valuable resource for many of our authors, both professionally and recreationally. To commemorate the occasion, our authors have taken to the blog to pay homage to “America’s best idea”! Check back with us throughout the month of August for more #JHUPressOnNPS! (Series photo credit: Wikimedia)


Just recently an email came to my inbox announcing the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary and gave some info on the ensuing celebrations. It made me think back about my association and memories of America’s national park system. I believed that my very first national park visit was to Acadia National Park in Maine during the 1970’s. It actually was in August 1974. I remember that because as we set around a campsite under the moonlight, we had a small transistor radio and struggled to find a station. And when we did, Richard Nixon was on the airwaves resigning his presidency.


My recollection of that visit was of immense beauty. It is almost impossible to describe other than the beauty was overwhelming - the smell of the air, the sky, the stars, long stretches of cliff along a rocky ocean shoreline, and a silence that was deafening. That was my first impression of the wonders of America's national parks and it was an awesome experience.


During the next couple of decades I ventured to a couple other big-name national parks; the Grand Canyon NP, and Yosemite. I was blown away by both and became hooked on the wonders of the National Park Service.


Fast forward to that email I mention receiving. Upon further investigation on their website, I found that there are countless NPS sites in every region of the country. I had assumed , as I’m sure many others may have, that the NPS was only the “Big-Name” parks - tens of thousands of acres each. I was delighted, and somewhat chagrined, to find that the Chesapeake Bay watershed region is chock full of parks and national park sites. I had been to many, or most, of these spots but had no real idea that they were actually part of the NPS, maybe with the exception of Ft. McHenry in Baltimore City. So Acadia was not my first National Park visit!


I am a chef and an author, having written extensively on the Chesapeake region and its cuisine and consider myself to somewhat of an expert on the bay watershed. I grew up in Baltimore and as a child spent a good deal of time at NPS locations, such as;  Ft. McHenry, Colonial Jamestown, Assateague Island National Seashore, Cotoctin Mountain Park, National Colonial Farm, C&O Canal National Historical Park, and Harpers Ferry.


As a young person I looked at, and experienced, each of these places as separate entities, enjoying each one on its own merits of place and history. It was not until much later as an adult and I was embarking on a project to chronicle a collection of  recipes on Chesapeake cuisine, that all these individual parks/sites came together in my collective memory to give me a real sense of the whole of the Chesapeake watershed.


Often folks think of the Chesapeake as just a bay, or as the largest estuary in North America. But the Chesapeake is so much more. It is a watershed of towns, villages, cities, rivers, creeks, lakes and streams, that spring to life from the Appalachian Mountains and upstate New York, winding down to the eastern shore of Maryland-Virginia-Delaware, the Atlantic ocean, and the Hampton Roads region of Virginia. This is all the Chesapeake. It is the cradle of our nation and how fitting that the NPS has set aside these parks and sites to remind us of our heritage. I now realize that I have used all of these spots to research the origins and history and sense of place of Chesapeake cuisine, sometimes formally and sometimes not.


A wonderful treasure that I discovered recently is the Captain John Smith Chesapeake – National Historic Trail that runs through Virginia, Maryland, Delaware Washington, DC, Pennsylvania and New York.  It is part of the National Trails System and traces the route of Captain John Smith’s travels throughout the Chesapeake region. It’s now on my bucket list to visit all the numerous sites of the trail. Happy Anniversary National Park Service, you are a true national treasure.



Chef John Shields is the owner of Gertrude’s Restaurant at the Baltimore Museum of Art. The host of PBS’s Chesapeake Bay Cooking and Coastal Cooking with John Shields, he is the author of The Chesapeake Bay Cookbook: Rediscovering the Pleasures of a Great Regional Cuisine, The Chesapeake Bay Crab Cookbook, Coastal Cooking with John Shields, and his latest, Chesapeake Bay Cooking with John Shields.