Ahh, the life of a travel blogger! For the past few nights, we have had spotty at best cell service and crappy to non-existent wifi at the campgrounds we have been staying at. So, here I sit, in Backyard Ale House in Scranton, Pa., sipping on a local brew (Community Kolsch by Free Will Brewing out of Bucks County, Pa.) and working on their free wifi. Mmm… Beer! Seriously though, our ability to work is very much dependent on decent internet access and one of the first upgrades for the camper must be a cell phone signal amplifier.
Our other major obstacle has been finding a place to get in our steps. Yesterday and today, it has been Scranton Lake, which has a rather nice 3.5 mile walking trail around the lake. Getting in our 10,000 steps every day is a must. Finding a place to do that in some of the smaller places we have stayed? Harder.
More on that stuff in later posts, though! On to our latest travels…
Rhode Island and Connecticut are small places. I didn’t really need to tell you that unless you have never looked at a map of the US. They are, however, filled with big ideas and their very few national park sites reflect that.
Roger Williams National Memorial
The concept of big ideas in a small place really has no greater shrine than the Roger Williams National Memorial. The site itself is a 4.5 acre urban park with a visitor center, a paved informative path and a few small monuments to the ideas of Williams.
Oh, how large ideas are found in the small, simple places. Williams, an Anglican clergyman sympathetic to the Puritans, came to the Massachusetts Bay Colony looking for separation of Church and State. Instead, he found a Puritan society ruling both religious and civil matters.
Eventually, he was exiled from Massachusetts and came to what is now Rhode Island and, with help from the local Native American people, he founded Providence. He established this place, eventually securing a royal charter, with the expressed promise of complete freedom of worship, even to not worship. He also argued long and hard for Native rights, including land rights.
Soon, other colonies were established following his lead for religious freedom and, eventually, his ideas were placed into the Constitution as the First Amendment.
To be honest, this was one chapter of American history my education had missed and one I was very glad to learn.
Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor
The Last Green Valley (or as NPS refers to it, Quinebaug and Shetucket River Valley National Heritage Corridor… Sorry, but Last Green Valley has a much better sound to it) is an areas spanning 35 towns in Connecticut and Massachusetts that encompasses a mostly undeveloped (70%) region of New England sandwiched in between major metropolitan areas to the east, north and west.
As as NHC, it is not a park per se, but is an area Congress as decided should be preserved and has allocated a certain amount of resources to preserving the area through the area’s non-profit, The Last Green Valley, Inc.
We stayed for two nights at the Army Corps of Engineers Campground on West Thompson Lake, which is one of the sites listed in the NHC. The lake and campground are very nice, with hiking trails and one of the best night skies you can hope to see.
Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park
Like Lowell NHP, Blackstone River NHP is dedicated to the American Industrial Revolution and its impact on the Blackstone River Valley and Canal area all the way up to Worcester, Mass.
The difference between the two valleys could not be more pronounced. While the Last Green Valley is dedicated to preserving the heritage and natural areas of the Quinebaug and Shetucket River Valleys, the Blackstone River Valley preserves the remains of mill towns all along the river and the cotton mills that drove them. But, like the Last Green Valley NHC, there is very little if any NPS presence. That’s mainly because it’s brand new. It was created in December 2014 and will encompass several sites in the valley’s National Heritage Corridor.
We visited the Old Slater Mill National Historic Landmark District for a look at one of the many old textile mills set up to use hydropower along the river. The site was interesting, but nowhere near as detailed as the mill works found in Lowell.
Steamtown National Historic Site
One of the things that made the Blackstone Valley Canal obsolete was the steam-powered locomotive and railroad, the subject of the final stop for this portion of the trip: Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton, Pa.
Steamtown NHS is a kid’s dream come true: an entire park dedicated to old school trains! Here, you can climb all over the locomotives, a box car, a Pullman car and a caboose. You can even take a ride on a working steam-powered train. Yes, it is very kid friendly. In fact, I would highly recommend folks heading either north or south along the East Coast with kids to detour to Scranton for this site. It is well worth it.
The site has a great museum and a restored, operational roundhouse (a train maintenance facility) and various locomotives and cars scattered throughout. I got to geek out a little at the trains. Like every boy of a certain age, I used to walk down with my parents to the train tracks and listen to the rails for the train to come. It runs in my family. My father’s stepfather, my namesake, used to work the rails not that far from here.
For every amazing vista at a national park, it is corners of history we find at these sites which make our journeys to the obscure sites off the beaten path so worth it. We don’t go on vacation so much as explore America. It isn’t always pretty, but it is majestic.