National Parks of the Midwest
Continuing with our series celebrating the national parks, this week we look at the Midwest region, stretching from Ohio in the east to Arkansas in the south and the Dakotas in the northwest.
In Lake Superior off Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Isle Royale is an outdoor haven. The park is a UNESCO international biosphere reserve. The park is set to be the new home of 20 to 30 relocated wolves in the next three to five years after the population was reduced to one female in 2017. About 400 islands make up the park, so kayaking and canoeing opportunities are just about endless. The artist-in-residence program enables artists in all mediums to capture the beauty of the park and share it with others.
Unlike Isle Royale, which closes from Nov. 1-April 15, this northern Minnesota park stays open all winter. Visitors can explore by snowmobile, cross-country skis, snowshoes or driving along the ice road. The time-honored Minnesota tradition of ice-fishing goes on all winter. On the right nights, the Northern Lights put on a show across the sky, and in summer the August Perseids meteor shower dazzles. Lakes makeup about 40 percent of the park and are its lifeblood, becoming a highway to adventure when the ice melts.
The eponymous thermal springs have been in use for 8,000 years, and visitors can take a dip in the traditional Buckstaff Bathhouse or get a 21st-century experience in the Quapaw Baths and Spa. Direct federal supervision of this Arkansas park began in 1877, making it the oldest park managed by the National Park System, predating the system by decades. Once you pass Bathhouse Row in the National Historic Landmark District, there are 26 miles of hiking trails and campsites at Gulpha Gorge.
Covering 380 square miles of the largest undisturbed mixed-grass prairie in the U.S., Badlands in South Dakota is home to impressive modern animals such as bison and bighorn sheep, as well as fossils of some of the most fearsome and fascinating creatures such as ancient rhinos and saber-toothed cats. The South Unit of the park is co-managed by the Oglala Lakota tribe, who have inhabited the area for hundreds of years and held Ghost Dances in the 1890s.
Roosevelt, one of the champions of establishing the National Park System, came to the Dakota Territory in 1883 and found a landscape full of majestic creatures. The North Dakota park is home to bison, elk, badgers and prairie dogs among many others. Scientists in the park are studying bison DNA to gain a better understanding of how to maintain and grow the population after our national mammal was nearly hunted to extinction in the 1800s. “We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune,” Roosevelt said in encouraging conservation. The park named after him is doing its part.