Photograph by Max Whittaker, The New York Times/Redux
Photograph by Max Whittaker, The New York Times/Redux

How will America's state parks survive 2020?

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By George Stone, TRAVEL Executive Editor

On Sunday I took a rugged hike around Mount Mitchell State Park and topped it off with spectacular views from its summit. At 6,684 feet, Mount Mitchell is the highest point east of the Mississippi. But that’s not its only superlative. In 1915, it became North Carolina’s first state park as part of legislation that established the North Carolina State Parks system.

America’s state parks are majestic—but threatened. As Miles Howard reports in our article on looming funding cutbacks, cash-strapped state parks are facing an unprecedented year of pandemic and natural disasters.

“The closure of Yosemite National Park due to heavy smoke from the wildfires in California sparked national attention. But another story is smoldering in the state: 34 of its 300 state parks have had to shut down due to the fires, which have brought additional pressure on public spaces already straining under a surge of pandemic crowds,” Howard writes. (Pictured above, a wildfire-damaged trail bridge in California’s Big Basin Redwoods State Park.)

Just as national parks have seen a record-breaking number of visits, state parks are seeing surges, too. In recent years, the nation’s 10,234 state parks have seen some 759 million annual visitors. “Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing numbers of Americans have been seeking relief from lockdowns by escaping to the great outdoors,” Howard reports. “While Americans have found solace from the pandemic in state parks, most probably don’t know that these oases operate on a patchwork of funding sources that have become increasingly vulnerable.”

At some state parks, pandemic travel restrictions have meant a loss of revenue to fund maintenance and park services. “Our parks have still been busy with visits from local residents, but they don’t pay entry fees. Those fees allow us to do things like trim coconut trees and pump septic systems—things that still have to happen,” says Alan Carpenter, assistant administrator of Hawaii’s Division of State Parks.

As crisp autumn weather beckons you outdoors, please enjoy the gift of our state parks. And look for ways to support the conservation and community efforts of these wild, beautiful spaces.

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Your Instagram photo of the day

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Echoes of Escher: With 26 percent of their land below sea level, the Dutch are experts at innovative water and flood management, using a series of canals, dams, channels, and many other methods. Flying over central Netherlands, photographer Aya Okawa was fascinated by the patterns and geometric shapes in the human-altered landscapes throughout the region. “This particular motorway passing beneath a canal caught my eye,” Okawa said of the image above, “reminding me of the perspective-bending work of the famous Dutch artist M.C. Escher."

Today in a minute

Hard staying green: “Pandemic or not, sometimes sustainability costs more,” writes Annie Fitzsimmons in an Afar article on how the hospitality industry can keep travelers—and the planet—safe. Sustainability expert Costas Christ spells out the challenge: “A single-use plastic cup might cost a few pennies and the compostable cup may cost 15 cents. But thinking short-term by putting profits before environmental damage will only hurt the travel industry as more people begin to understand the direct connection between our personal health and well-being and planetary health and well-being.” One stylish idea: The Bushcamp Company in Zambia partnered with local tailors to create washable masks made from colorful chitenge fabric for its staff.

Who wants 18 cruise ships? Call it a COVID-19 sale. Idled Carnival Corp. is selling off 18 of its older vessels after selling another eight ships, the Washington Post reports. The company would not identify the buyer or the vessels it was selling.

We didn’t mean to start a Scandinavian war: A Swedish reader was miffed that our story last week on Norway's mellow, nature-loving way of life (friluftsliv) slighted her nation. “We have something called Friluftsfrämjandet (meaning the advancement of an outdoorsy lifestyle) and also organizations for children in the same manner,” Eva-Karin Lindgren writes us. While Norway and Sweden work it out, we’re heading outside!

What are we reading? Last month’s Travel Book Club pick, Sharks in the Time of Saviors, inspired a wave of interest in Hawaiian titles. In an interview with the Los Angeles Review of Books, Sharks author Kawai Strong Washburn gives his tips for other Hawaiian authors to read. His list includes Kristiana Kahakauwila, whose collection of short stories, This Is Paradise, “shows us contemporary Hawaii from a variety of angles,” says Washburn. Next globetrotting read for the book club? A tale of Iran and London, mothers and daughters: The Saffron Kitchen, by Yasmin Crowther.

The big takeaway

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Chinatowns now: America’s first Chinatown opened in San Francisco more than 170 years ago. Rooted in both racism and marketing, the neighborhoods in various U.S. cities have struggled during the pandemic, Rachel Ng writes for Nat Geo. “We’ve been through everything, good and bad, and whatever it is, we’re still going to be here,” says Glenn SooHoo, whose family has had an import business in L.A.’s Chinatown for 80 years. “I just want to keep this Chinatown alive for the next generation.” (Pictured above: Sau Ling, owner of the The Lucky Creation Vegetarian restaurant, is in her storefront in San Francisco’s Chinatown in 2016.)

In a few words

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On Wednesday, Victoria Jaggard covers the latest in science. If you’re not a subscriber, sign up here to also get Rachael Bale on animals, Whitney Johnson on photography, and Debra Adams Simmons on history.

The last glimpse

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Word up: Libraries are writing a new chapter during the pandemic by branching into podcasting, virtual book festivals, and rolling book repositories that serve as mobile lending outposts. Tomes, it turns out, are timely. According to the tech company that libraries use to loan out digital material, weekly e-book lending in the U.S. has increased nearly 50 percent since the pandemic started. While many libraries remain closed, bibliophiles are getting their fix in surprising ways. They include StoryWalk (literary trails for kids) and our own Nat Geo Travel reading lists—curated by the editors!—of books about sailing around the world, adventurous women travelers, and fantastical journeys to otherworldly realms. Many libraries, including the newly renovated Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, D.C., are turning a new page with edgy architecture. (Pictured above, Norway’s new Deichman Bjørvika central library, overlooking Oslo’s main fjord.)

This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, and Jen Tse selected the photographs. Kimberly Pecoraro and Gretchen Ortega also contributed. Have an idea or a link? We'd love to hear from you at . And thanks for reading!