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National Parks, A Kid's Guide To America's Parks, Monuments And Landmarks

Author : Erin McHugh
Published : 2012-04-24

This is a good idea for a book, but its many weaknesses undercut its promise.

The 397 units of the National Park System, places from Acadia to Zion national parks, are great for kids to enjoy and explore. Books that help entice kids into the parks, and which provide them educational insights into the park system, are needed.

Unfortunately, while this book is filled with facts and information, not all are indeed factual and that casts a question over the rest.

The author, Erin McHugh, seems to have little experience with the National Park System and the natural processes and residents within it. Aimed at children as young as 8, the text not only does a disservice to kids and their parents hoping to learn about the parks, but to the parks themselves. 

For instance:

* A blurb on the cover proclaims that "the deepest rock layer in the Grand Canyon is 2 billion years old," but in the pages on Grand Canyon National Park it states that in the deepest part of the canyon the Colorado River "flows past rocks that are 1.7 billion years old," while the National Park Service places the age at 1.8 billion years.

* While Ms. McHugh writes that the Colorado River is "about eight thousand feet below the South Rim," the Park Service says it is "6,000 feet deep at its deepest point."

Even if you measured from the North Rim, which is about 1,000 feet higher than the South Rim, that 8,000-foot figure digs the canyon floor about 1,000 feet deeper than it is. And while she writes that the canyon is "18 miles wide," that's at the widest point along the 277-mile length of the canyon; the average rim-to-rim width is 10 miles, according to the Park Service.

* The section on Lassen Volcanic National Park identifies the bald eagle as an "endangered" species, but that status was removed in 2007 when it was determined bald eagles no longer needed the protection of the Endangered Species Act.

* George Rogers Clark National Historical Park in Indiana is identified as George Rogers Clark National Park and Preserve, and the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness in Idaho, a unit of the U.S. Forest Service, is described and referred to as a "park."

* Though Cedar Breaks National Monument in Utah covers not quite 6,200 acres, this book claims it spans 602,779 acres.

* The Ozette Loop, a 9.4-mile hike, is not "all along the shoreline" of Olympic National Park, but starts and finishes with boardwalks that travel roughly 3 miles each way through maritime forest.

* The text implies that Crystal Mountain, a ski resort east of Mount Rainier National Park, is actually within the park and offers "gondola rides." Perhaps that's because there's a "Mount Rainier Gondola" at the resort.

* While you can indeed ride horses in Yellowstone National Park, llama rides are not part of the activities, though llama pack trips are.

* In discussing the colorful amphitheaters at Bryce Canyon National Park, the narrative explains that the "unusual red, orange, and pink colors of the rocks are caused by erosion...", which isn't the case at all, as the colors are the result of minerals in the rock. 

* The section on Shenandoah includes "wildflowers" among the park's "wildlife."

* Regarding Saguaro National Park, the text reads that "The park's original name, Saguaro National Monument, is a rather weird choice for a name, because there is no actual monument here." 

Sadly, the editors and fact-checkers let the author down in producing a book with good intentions but too many shortcomings.


Congressman Bishop must be having a coronary about that expansion at Cedar Breaks!

The sad thing is I am sure if she sought help from the National Parks she wouldn't have gotten it. The Parks do a great job of spending money, but they don't seem to get the message.  They have the Junior Ranger Program for little kids, but like a history book, it isn't very interesting and mostly concern picking up trash and protecting the parks. The kids get a little plastic Ranger pin which seems to be the sole motivation to do the program.  There is real science and real learning going on in the parks but it's not the Park Service doing it. It's people that think outside the box and leave the parking lots, visitor centers and paved trails (where all the money is spent) to explore for themselves the wonders greater than Disneyland that are our National Parks.  Don't worry how you get the kids into the parks, just get them in. Don't waste their time doing stupid stuff to get a plastic pin, there is too much cool stuff to do and see to waste your time  in the visitor center.  You can change someone for life just getting them in the park and thats your best chance to get more "Americans" into our own Parks! 
I commend them for their effort in writing this book, and wish the National Parks would understand why someone would need to write a book like this. 
Cheers and Good Exploring!
American Wanderer

I have just seen your review of the NATIONAL PARKS book, and was so
very disappointed by your reaction. We covered a ton of information in
here, including many, many parks. and have given kids a book that will
get them psyched for a visit to one, or many, National Parks. If a few
of the thousands of facts within the book are incorrect (though I can't
tell you how many sources list Cedar Breaks as being 602,779 acres)
these will be corrected in the second printing.  And you
obviously didn't like my little joke that the saguaro itself is not
actually a monument. But I feel a bit like you threw the baby out with
the bath water!

There's not a lot out there
in bookstores or libraries for kids to learn about our National Parks.
We really believe our book is a great introduction to some of the
finest. That said, you seemed to focus on a few details, while bypassing any
mention of the work as a whole.

And what a much better response would have been: "OK, my bad. Everyone please email me all the errors and I will research each and ensure it is fixed in the second edition. Thank you."

The review here focused on a LOT of details. Wrong details.

As a mother who is planning our summer family trip, I can tell you that there is not alot of guides out there for kids that deal with monuments and parks (which suprised me.) So I was excited to pre-order it.

Jackie, if you go to and search for "kids" you'll get thousands of hits for kids activites in the national park system, including monuments.

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