A few night’s ago, I came across this picture (above) of Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore from over the summer. A family wedding landed us in northern Michigan, and a relative recommended we swing by the dunes during our down time. Man was I glad we did. The visit to the lakeshore was welcoming, the views were breathtaking, and the enormity of the dunes were unbelievable! This picture does not do it justice (they never do in these cases). In talking to people at the dunes, we found out it can take one to two hours to climb from the lake to the top of the dunes. What a grueling workout! Since we were on a schedule, we did not make the trek down and up, but I would love to tackle that challenge in the future.
As I reminisced about this grand experience, I began to think – my family and I should try to visit all of the national parks, lakeshores, and seashores. How many are there? Where are they located? How many have I already been to? Which are the most popular?
As a final product for this exploration, I wanted to end up with a map showing all of the national parks, lakeshores, and seashores of the United States. This required me to find a list containing the name and coordinates of each destination. After a quick search, I found that Wikipedia provided a great list of national parks with not only this information, but also the acreage of the park and number of recreational visitors in 2014. I could work this information into my analysis as well!
Wikipedia also provided the list of lakeshores and seashores with coordinates and acreage, but it did not provide the number of visitors. For this information I turned to the National Park Service statistics page. Here I was able to search for the number of visitors to each ‘shore destination, as well as cross-check the Wikipedia national park visitor information for a handful of the sites (they checked out). At this point, I had a table containing all parks/lakeshores/seashores, their coordinates, acreages, and visitor information from 2014.
As I scanned the table, it occurred to me that multiple locations exist outside the contiguous 48 states (Alaska, Hawaii, American Samoa, Virgin Islands). Since my final product for this exploration was going to be a map, it would be difficult to provide a nicely scaled map with these distant locations included. Therefore, I trimmed the list to include only those parks, lakeshores, and seashores that reside within the contiguous 48 states. The table below shows the result (apologies for the length).
|Black Canyon of the Gunnison||38.57°N||107.72°W||32,950||183,045|
|Great Sand Dunes||37.73°N||105.51°W||42,984||271,774|
|Great Smoky Mountains||35.68°N||83.53°W||521,490||10,099,276|
|National Lakeshore||Apostle Islands||46.97°N||90.66°W||69,372||290,059|
|Sleeping Bear Dunes||44.91°N||86.02°W||71,198||1,395,401|
|National Seashore||Assateague Island||38.08°N||75.21°W||39,727||2,170,681|
Equipped with this information, I turned to Microsoft Excel and a feature I had not used before – Power Map. Like any standard map-generating software, objects are applied to a map in layers. The map I generated consisted of two layers of data, with both containing the coordinates of each location and their classification type (park/lakeshore/seashore). The only difference was that the first layer contained the acreage statistic, and the second layer contained the number of visitors. Power Map gives you the option of how you want to show these numerical measures. For the acreage, I decided to use a bubble chart centered on the coordinates, and a column chart was used to show the number of visitors. The map below is the result (note – the bubbles on the map do not denote the actual footprint of each site, rather they depict a way of comparing the acreage). The two sites labeled in yellow are the only ones I have visited thus far (Sleeping Bear Dunes and the Everglades).
Having been born, raised, and lived my entire life in the United States, I must admit that I feel a little ashamed (and embarrassed) that I don’t know more about our national parks, lakeshores, and seashores. The two I’ve visited thus far have been absolutely amazing, and I look forward to experiencing more of them with my family in the future (road trip!). Below are a list of things that jumped out to me as I completed my exploration:
- In the contiguous 48, there are 47 national parks, 4 national lakeshores, and 10 national seashores
- The majority of the national parks are located out West (as I suspected)
- All national lakeshores are located along the Great Lakes
- Only one of the ten national seashores is on the west coast (I expected a more even distribution)
- Death Valley is the largest national park at just over 3.3 million acres
- Hot Springs is the smallest national park at 5,550 acres
- The Great Smoky Mountains had the most visitors with over 10 million (2014)
- Isle Royal was the least visited with just 14,560 visitors (2014)
At almost 20 million acres, there is so much natural beauty to see in our nation’s protected land. The sites, sounds, and feelings experienced when visiting these locations are some you will never forget. With only two locations under my belt, my family and I have a lot of work ahead of ourselves if we want to try and visit each site. Anyone have extra frequent flier miles lying around? 🙂