National Geographic : 1963 Nov
"We load the old car with children and canned goods and nice old clothes. We drive down to the cabin we've reserved. We rent a boat, and my husband fishes in the lake [pages 686-7]. "Our three kids swim, hike, and play on the beach. In the evening, the whippoorwills on the hills sing us to sleep. Sometimes my hus band and I go to a little lodge where there is music, and we square dance in bare feet. "The best thing is the knowledge that here we are, city people who don't know much about forests and animals, living here, alone but together, doing all our own chores and all the time I know that if something goes wrong, like a skunk under the back porch, I only have to scream and a ranger will come running and chase the skunk away." What more can you ask of a park? Forests Replace Farmed-out Fields Another of the quiet parks, North Caro lina's beloved William B. Umstead near Raleigh, stands with San Francisco's Golden Gate as an example of what persevering people can create out of practically nothing. Once it was eroded, submarginal farmland, with the sight and smell of human failure hanging heavy over treeless, gullied hills and cotton fields gone back to weeds and briars. The CCC came in. The young men dammed Sycamore Creek to make a lake and put the trees back. Roads and nature trails were con structed. A bigger lake was built. Now the trees are forest, and under the trees are camp grounds and picnic tables (page 679). Four city parks have had considerable influence upon my life. The first is New York's Central Park, which, more than any other place in the country, demonstrates the lengths to which Americans will go to give them selves sunshine and green grass. KODACHR Squeezed flat, speleologist Tom Phillips inches along an unex plored crawlway of Longhorn Cavern State Park in Texas. More accessible, the cave's Hall of Marble (opposite) vaults above visitors. Beyond eight miles of explored passages, the cavern winds into the dark unknown. Comanche Indian war parties and Wild West bad men took shelter in the cave. Archeologists have unearthed early man's crude 662 tools and the ashes of his fires. Here, in the heart of the huge, congested city, lies an 840-acre park that would bring the people of New York, were they to sell it, hundreds of millions of dollars. Would they sell so much as a foot of it? Emphatically no. They have been resisting encroachments upon the park's beauty and cultural values since it was created out of a patchwork of farms in the 1860's.* Boyhood Spent in and Around Parks When my father, Theodore Wirth, a Swiss landscape gardener, came to this country, he took a job trimming the trees in Central Park. Right after a city election the politicians laid off their tree trimmers, common practice in the 1880's. My father went out to Long Island and worked for a horticulturist whose daugh ter he later married. I was born in the second city park that influenced my life. In the park superintend ent's house, that is, for my father was by then superintendent of Elizabeth Park in Hartford, Connecticut. Here he designed and built the first municipal rose garden in the United States. No one has ever changed his design so far as I can find out, and experts call it one of the finest in the country (page 667). The mounted head of a ram glared from a wall of the superintendent's house, I remem ber. Once it had belonged to the leader of the park's lawn-mowing flock; in those days, before power mowers, city parks invariably used sheep to cut grass. The shepherd kept telling my father the ram was getting old and cantankerous, but Dad wouldn't listen. One day my father dropped something in the grass, and when he bent over to pick it up, the ram sent him flying into the shrubbery. So then he left the ram's fate to the shepherd, *See "Central Park: Manhattan's Big Outdoors," by Stuart E. Jones, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, Dec., 1960.