A cake adorned with 100 blazing candles to celebrate the centennial of the National Park Service sounds tempting. But it may not be the safest route to revelry — although, to be fair, Smokey the Bear’s vintage salvo about preventing forest fires has come under its own fire recently, with some environmentalists pointing out that controlled burns might stem the kind of devastating wildfires that routinely destroy forested areas.
This week, though, it’s just time to rejoice. On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the act creating the national park system, and ever since, these federally protected lands — situated in America’s widely various pockets of natural beauty — have become vacation central for families, hikers, campers, and explorers.
In WNC, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the mega draw — and is, in fact, the most-visited park in the country. Henderson and Transylvania counties shelter part of the Blue Ridge Parkway, a national-park site, and also the Carl Sandburg National Historic Site. Known familiarly as Connemara, the last abode of the great American poet is an easy-to-see treasure (no strenuous hiking) that’s brimming with history, pretty views, intimate peeks into the late writer’s life, and, never least, the descendants of Lilian “Paula” Sandburg’s herd of prize-winning dairy goats. The Carl Sandburg home is among the most accessible national parks in the country, exhibiting a premium balance of lessons and leisure. (Look for a memoir in next month’s Bold Life by a lifelong friend of the poet.)
Carl Sandburg Home and all national parks offer free entrance and tours to honor the National Park Service’s 100th birthday. August 25. Nps.gov/carl.