Find Your Park quest leads to great surprise at Cedar Creek and Belle Grove
The National Park Service has been celebrating its 100th anniversary this year by urging Americans to “find their park.” The Jim and Cheri Maitland family of Rives Junction, Michigan recently made the 500 mile, 8-hour trip to ‘find’ Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park. Not unlike the battle story itself, the Maitlands found surprise and intrigue. “Cedar Creek and Belle Grove was such a wonderful surprise and delight,” according to family feedback to park staff.
Jim, Cheri, and their children, Jameson, age 14 and Gerald, age 12 are determined to visit all 413 park units in the National Park system. “Cedar Creek and Belle Grove NHP was our 280th park unit to visit since we began visiting parks in 2010,” according to Cheri Maitland. The Maitlands not only sightsee each park visited but also delve deeply into the history found there by actively participating in every Junior Ranger Program.
“To become Junior Rangers here at Cedar Creek and Belle Grove, participants learn our history, explore, attend ranger programs and tour various park features to be able to answer questions in our Junior Ranger guidebook,” according to chief interpretive ranger Eric Campbell. “Guidebook activities and questions are age-group specific and participants must present their completed booklet to a park ranger or volunteer for review prior to being ‘sworn in’ as a park Junior Ranger,” he said.
“We had planned to spend about three hours sightseeing and for the kids to complete their Junior Ranger activities here, but much to our surprise, our visit became an overnight stay since much of the next day was needed to experience all this park has to offer,” said Maitland. “We knew very little about the Shenandoah Valley and virtually nothing about this park’s incredible history. The self-guided driving tour with map and CD provided by the park was amazing. We walked trails, visited Hupps Hill, toured the Belle Grove mansion and experienced a wonderful ‘history in a box’ ranger program where period history was explained in a way suited for all age groups. Our kids particularly enjoyed collecting Civil War trading cards from locations throughout the park. The electronic map and audio-visual presentation at the visitors station offered us a perfect birds-eye-view of the Battle of Cedar Creek’s amazing story.”
“Cedar Creek’s rangers and volunteers are some of the best we’ve encountered anywhere. Thanks for making Cedar Creek National Historical Park such a memorable stop and truly worth the 8-hour drive back to Michigan,” said Maitland.
The Maitland kids pride themselves on qualifying for Junior Ranger badges, but instead of completing minimum task requirements for their age group, they complete every activity and respond to every single question – at Cedar Creek and Belle Grove, that’s a 14-page booklet.
“Regional school classes, youth groups, scout troops, 4-H members and local families are invited to ‘find their park’ at Cedar Creek and Belle Grove and to explore, learn and protect park history and resources through participation in our Junior Ranger program,” said park ranger Shannon Moeck. “They should be ready for a great new challenge and exciting learning experience when they arrive.”
Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historic Park was established by Congress in 2002 and first offered park ranger interpretive programs and a visitor contact station “visitation center” in 2013. Designated a ‘partnership park,’ most public areas within its 1,600 acres of publicly accessible land belong to one of five park partners – The National Historic Trust, Belle Grove, Inc., Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation, Shenandoah Valley National Historic District, and Shenandoah County.
The park was established to protect the significant historic, natural, military and scenic resources associated with the Battle of Cedar Creek and Belle Grove Plantation and surrounding area, and to interpret the history of the Shenandoah Valley – “From Backcounty to Breadbasket to Battlefield and Beyond.”