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America’s ‘Ghost’ Parks

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Hike Wheeler Geologic Area in Colorado. (Photograph by Kennan Harvey/Getty Images)

Wheeler Geologic Area, a wonderland of stone pinnacles and hoodoos (above), was once a top Colorado attraction. Now, only backcountry hikers and those willing to drive 13 miles on a dirt road earn a glimpse of one of America’s more unusual landscapes.

President Theodore Roosevelt designated this volcanic tuff formation, about 250 miles southwest of Denver, Wheeler National Monument in 1908. It became part of the National Park Service in 1933 but was scarcely visited because of its remote location.

Unable to justify maintenance fees, the Park Service removed Wheeler from its list in 1950, one of dozens of “ghost parks” dropped from the parks system because of upkeep costs and low visitation.

From Alaska to the Caribbean, America’s ghost parks linger, in shopping centers, along highways, in wildernesses. Many live on as state parks or are managed by such federal agencies as the National Forest Service—which oversees Wheeler—and most remain accessible to the public.

They range from a bronze cross in upstate New York (Father Millet Cross) to a natural cross in the Rockies visible only when it snows; from Fort Christian, the oldest building in the Virgin Islands, to Michigan’s Mackinac Island, established in 1875 as America’s second national park and delisted in 1895.

This piece, written by National Geographic Magazine researcher Brad Scriber, appeared in the February/March 2016 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine.


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