While America’s iconic national parks get all the glory, the National Park Service Centennial is also a time to celebrate these three types of public lands and what they offer sportsmen
Being from California and living most of my life in the West, I have spent a whole lot of time on public lands. Between hiking, climbing rocks, and road-tripping in my free time, and working as a wildlife field technician after college, I have logged countless hours learning what folks are (and are not) allowed to do on various types of public land. I have learned that they are not all created equal, and while national parks get a lot of publicity and love, the exclusion of hunting and fishing – not to mention heavy crowds – can leave sportsmen behind.
In honor of the National Parks Centennial, I’d like to shine the spotlight on a few National Parks Service lands that aren’t national parks – there are, in fact, more than 20 NPS designations. The opportunities that exist on these lands just might surprise you.
National Recreation Areas
A special designation for areas located around major water reservoirs or urban centers, all 18 national recreation areas allow fishing and/or hunting of some kind. However, before you pack up your rod, rifle, or bow, be aware that the rules vary from unit to unit. In the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SAMO), for example, hunting is only allowed on private property nested within park boundaries.
I grew up in the suburbs of Los Angeles, just a 15-minute ride away from SAMO—a huge patchwork landscape of federal, state, and private property, and even a strip of the pacific coast, that’s full of rock climbing opportunities and purple sage. This was where I fell in love with fresh air and solitude, and to this day the smell of sage makes me feel like I’m on summer vacation. Later, when I was working as a wildlife intern at SAMO, I saw firsthand the value of this multi-purpose land designation, which focused on human use rather than pristine preservation, as a “gateway drug” – turning city rats into public lands advocates.
National Seashores and Lakeshores
Just last week, I visited Assateague Island, a national seashore with opportunities for shore fishing and limited hunting seasons for waterfowl, foxes, rabbits, and mourning doves. There are ten national seashores and four national lakeshores in the country, and fishing and/or hunting is permitted on all of them. Again, site regulations may vary. For example, at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore hunting is prohibited, but fishing for trout and salmon is permitted—and popular.
There are 19 national preserves, where extractive activities, including hunting and fishing, are permitted. Some of these are adjacent to other NPS lands that prohibit hunting and fishing, allowing for multiple uses of a contiguous landscape.
Theodore Roosevelt Island
I’d like to give a final shout out an NPS site that allows neither hunting nor fishing, but does pay homage to our number one guy here at TRCP. If you’ve ever visited Washington, D.C., you may have noticed that the presidential monuments are governed by NPS. Theodore Roosevelt Island is no exception. However, in contrast to those massive blocks of expertly sculpted concrete and stone, T.R.’s capitol city memorial is a lush island comprised of upland woods and swampy bottoms—very fitting for the foremost conservationist president.
The island is a legitimate hiking destination in its own right. In fact, the friend I visited with had been there several times, just to walk the trails, without ever noticing the manicured memorial at its heart. And I think that’s how T.R. would have wanted it – he urged Americans to not only protect our land, but immerse ourselves in it.
As we celebrate the National Park Service Centennial this month, I hope that sportsmen and women across the country can be proud of our stake in all of these uniquely American public lands—for every icon, there’s a hidden gem. While the NPS centennial campaign may be branded “find your park,” we hope everyone to finds their public land, whatever designation it may be. With all the opportunities they offer us to wet a line, glass a ridgeline, see our breath in a morning duck blind, or just to be transported from our everyday lives, they all deserve to be celebrated and enjoyed.
All month long, we’re celebrating the National Park Service centennial with a blog series about our most significant experiences in the parks. Check back here for new posts from the TRCP staff and special guests, and follow the hashtag #PublicLandsProud on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram
One Response to “Beyond the Parks: Hidden Gems of the National Park Service”
I used to exercise on TR Island at lunch during my last assignment in the Army before I retired. I enjoyed the small (80+ acre) place immensely, including its resident herd of whitetail deer. Unfortunately, the statue of TR is one of the worst I’ve ever seen, stiff and unreal, reminding me of Soviet depictions on Lenin.
Interestingly, my retirement gig is with the National Park Service, so I’m delighted to see an article about sportsmen’s opportunities across the country within the agency.