Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Happy National Park Week

It’s National Park Week – which means that all of our nation’s 397 national parks are offering free admission April 21-29.  The purpose of the week, according to the National Park Foundation, is to celebrate what we all have inherited as Americans – 84 million acres of the world’s most spectacular scenery, historic landmarks and cultural treasures.”

The National Park Service says it’s a time to “engage families and communities in America’s Great Outdoors, reconnecting them with nature and creating close to home opportunities for people to get outside, be active, and have fun.
Our June 2008 trip to Yellowstone National Park.
It’s a worthy mission.  We aren’t able to get away to any of the parks this week, so I will have to visit virtually by looking back at some of our family vacation photos.  Steve and I have made a point over the past several years to include national parks on our list of places to take our kids before they graduate from high school.  We started this even before Ken Burns’ PBS series, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, aired in 2009.

We are more museum-goers than campers – except for Sebastian, the Boy Scout, who likes both history and camping – but we do enjoy hiking the trails and staying in historic lodges in or near the parks.  Our family has been to the Grand Canyon, to Yellowstone and Grand Teton, to Yosemite and Glacier; we’ve been to several historic sites and historical parks, like the one in Boston; and we’ve been to a couple of national military parks, Shiloh and Vicksburg.

It’s hard to pick a favorite of the places we have visited because they all have unique characteristics, but I have to admit that I have a special place in my heart for the rugged, remote beauty of Glacier National Park in Montana.

Our family at Glacer's Iceberg Lake in August 2009.
My dad’s brother Bob and sister Dana both worked at Glacier during college, a fact I didn’t know until a few years ago.  But the Riggs family’s connection to the park actually goes all the way back to the early years of the park, which was established in 1910 as the country’s 10th national park.

My great-grandfather, G. Oliver Riggs, moved to Havre, Montana in 1911; the town is east of Glacier and is a stop on Amtrak’s Empire Builder route.  The original Empire Builder was the flagship train of James J. Hill’s Great Northern Railroad, and Hill’s son Louis W. Hill was a huge promoter and developer of Glacier National Park.

G. Oliver got to know Louis Hill through his involvement in the Montana Cowboy Band, which Hill hired in November and December of 1912 to help publicize Montana as a destination for travelers (and later brought to St. Paul for the Winter Carnival).  G. Oliver also may have known Hill through his involvement in the Kalispell Elks Band.  Marion Riffo, an architect who designed many buildings in Havre and Kalispell, formed the Kalispell Elks Band in March 1912, and G. Oliver was one of about 35 members.  It was this Elks band that played for the opening of the Glacier Park Lodge (then called the Glacier Park Hotel) on June 22, 1913.

The Minnesota Historical Society has a great photo of the band members in their white uniforms, standing in front of the hotel’s former entrance arch (it’s from the Louis Hill photo collection).  I couldn’t find G. Oliver in the photo, so I’m not sure if he was present that day; I need to do more research.  I do know that G. Oliver played with the Elks band two weeks later at the State Elks Convention in Kalispell.

The historical society library has a few other photos of the band in its collection, and the band is also mentioned briefly in the book, A View with a Room: Glacier’s Historic Hotels and Chalets by Ray Djuff and Chris Morrison. If G. Oliver was there that day, I’d be curious to know what he thought of the event.  And if he wasn’t there, I wonder if he regretted not going?

When we visited Glacier in 2009, we stayed at the park’s slightly younger hotel, Many Glacier, which opened to guests in 1917 and has an amazing view.
Many Glacier Hotel at Glacier National Park
The view from the other side of the Many Glacier Hotel.
The next time we visit – and I do hope there’s a next time – I’d like to try out the Glacier Park Lodge.  Its 100-year history is fascinating and worth appreciating, during National Park Week or any other time of the year.

1 comment:

  1. Happy National Park Week Wonderful post !

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