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Where In The World Do We Live?: A Short History of Shenandoah National Park

Updated: May 1

By: Chloe O’Hallaron



Chances are, you’re familiar with Skyline Drive and the Appalachian Trail, but what do you know about the (nearly) century-old history of Shenandoah National Park? Clear your schedule; after this, you’ll want to strap on your hiking boots and get outside.


Home to the Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah National Park was opened on December 26, 1935, and was originally inspired by national reserves like Yellowstone and other National Parks in the Western United States. In 1924, as a product of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a government jobs program created during the Great Depression, Shenandoah began its shift from farmland and second or third-growth forests to the campgrounds, rock walls, and overlooks that are enjoyed in the Park today. 10,000 members of the Civilian Conservation Corps contributed to the construction of the Park; Shenandoah was the first of many Parks to host the CCC. 


So, who worked behind the scenes to establish the Park that many of us here at James Madison are so fond of today? We have Stephen Mather, National Park Service Director, to thank. In 1923, Mather approached President Calvin Coolidge’s Secretary of the Interior, Hubert Work, requesting to establish a National Park in the southern region of the Appalachian Mountains. Soon, a resolution was passed to authorize a Southern Appalachian National Park Committee (SANPC). After the committee was authorized, a convention was held right here in Harrisonburg; the purpose of that convention was to share the scenic, historical, and industrial values of the Shenandoah Valley. Quickly, a Board of Directors was established, and the very next day, a resolution was passed calling for the creation of Shenandoah National Park. 


Rich in history, Shenandoah once served as a passing ground for Native Americans during migrations. The area was also called home by many post-settlement families, 426 of whom were displaced to construct the Park. Perhaps the darkest period in her history, Shenandoah was a segregated park between 1935 and 1950. Today, Lewis Mountain is home to Byrd Visitor Center, where Park guests can visit an exhibition honoring Civil Rights in Shenandoah. 


So, now that you’re caught up on your history, why don’t you close your computer, grab those hiking boots, and visit Shenandoah National Park, a gem right here in your backyard? 









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