America's unspoiled oases

Slide show: State parks feature some of the most underappreciated land in the country. We take a look inside

By Megan Cytron

Published April 3, 2011 1:01PM (EDT)

America's 58 national parks are expansive and glamorous, gracing calendars and inspiring countless cross-country road trips. In their shadow, over 3,675 state parks carry on in relative obscurity, hiding an almost unbelievable variety of landscapes, ecosystems and wildlife habitats. The masses mostly head to the big-name parks, leaving these smaller state alternatives on the fringes, often without another soul in sight.

During this particular economic crisis (and even before), the future of state parks looks as precarious as that of the wildlife they harbor, suffering from the menace of slashed budgets, closures, privatization, logging, mining, development and rezoning for dubious purposes (like the proposed toll road nearly ramrodded through California's coastal San Onofre park a few years ago). As cities sprawl into megalopolises, even during tough economic times, it seems we are on a slippery slope when we abandon the few unspoiled places that remain -- especially considering that America's system of parks was developed by forward-thinking leaders during even rougher patches. In the midst of the Civil War, in 1864, a vocal group of advocates convinced Abraham Lincoln to set aside the land of Yosemite and the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias for the state of California. And the well-conceived parks infrastructure that we take for granted today was a product of the 1930s New Deal's Civilian Conservation Corps back-to-work program of the 1930s.

Given the embarrassment of riches that America enjoys (our parks make up 10 percent of the protected land in the world), it wasn't easy to narrow it down to 16. I'd love to hear about your favorites in the comments. You can read about many more state parks here:

Megan Cytron

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