In honor of Black Friday I thought I’d talk a little bit about shopping in the parks.  As you may know if you are a park enthusiast all parks have trouble with funding.  Much like our home budgets there is always a long list of things to be done and only so many dollars to allot.  Many park became absolutely free in the last couple of years but that means they are counting on the support of the larger parks and private donations. Every park has a donation box and we always try to throw a little in as we pass it.  In addition to that each park keeps what money it raises in the gift shop, so I try and make a purchase in every park we stop at as a courtesy to the site.  This is really important at low traffic parks, as they are the first to get cut.  Just because something is tucked away doesn’t make it less important.  And really, I can’t say enough about how educational and necessary these parks are.  I have a future post about how they provided an entire curriculum for a class I taught.    So here are some things we bought in the parks that we especially like!

One of the best purchases we made was at Allegheny Portage, and was a collection of stories from the National Park system and are the PERFECT length for bedtime stories.  The book is divided into chapters grouping like stories.  So all the animal ones are together.  My kids really love this book and each story is labeled with the park name and a park picture.  They are very different, we haven’t quite finished it yet, but so far the favorites have all been animal stories.  I liked “Gentleman Bear” a lot but my daughter really liked the one about rescuing a baby dolphin.  We haven’t yet visited a park that we’ve read about but I’m hoping the kids will remember when we do!

Another thing I like to purchase are relevant educational materials.  So at the Garfield house we purchased a set of Civil War Bullets and a Quilting kit.  While I definitely own all the things to quilt sometimes it’s easier to have it in a grab and go kit for my strong willed daughter who likes to do it on her own.  Both of these items relate to the Civil War Unit we are doing this year and I consider them instructional.  At Johnstown Flood I bought a Dover Coloring book about Clara Barton, while she was only peripherally involved in Johnstown there is a large amount of tie in with our units this year.  I always browse the book section because there are often things I don’t think of or realize, like the Barton book that can really add depth.  C&O canal provided me with my fantastic mule cookie cutter, which was pictured in that post, and I think everyone got a clearance centennial water bottle, because SALE,  which I’m sure was lost within a week.

I generally hate gift shops because I think they are full of junky tourist items that are over priced.  National Park gift shops are not immune to this either.  At New River Gorge my kids set their hearts on $9.99 binoculars, which I am sure were $5 Amazon purchases. But they get an allowance which they can save and spend as they like.  I counseled them against it, but they insisted.  I felt better about it because at least that margin will do the parks some good! Plus they haven’t lost them  yet so I guess it wasn’t the worst purchase.  They also usually carry National Park versions of popular games, like Yahtzee and Jenga.  We haven’t purchased them yet, but they look awesome.  We sometimes get  magnets.  My first was an Abe Lincoln finger puppet from Gettysburg, and I got a magnet of the Ohio 8, all 8 presidents from Ohio, who knew??  I wish I had started collecting ornaments at each site, I now envision having a winter tree adorned with all our park ornaments, like a 3D version of the passport.

In order to avoid piles of kitschy junk consumable purchases are also great.  I loved that we could purchase flour at Smoky, it tied in with both the history of the park and the unique geography as well. Plus we got it at the mill and didn’t have to fight our way to the counter in the gift shop!

I find this kind of purchase inspiring.  I am partial to education that engages all of the senses, which is why I like visiting the parks so much.  This purchase comes in as my favorite because we were able to “revisit” the park a week after we got home by making a Smoky inspired meal.  Heavy on the chestnuts.  While I did not drive a team and wagon to a mountain stand of trees, camping out to fill our chestnut needs,  I did drive all the way to Whole Foods to purchase imported vacuum packed, pre-roasted and peeled chestnuts.  JUST LIKE THE PIONEERS.  Since the chestnut blight killed the chestnuts in the Smokies as well as most of the US, it’s the best we could do in August.  We had chestnut roasted “Wild Boar” (pork loin) and Honey Chestnut cake. We also made cornbread and whole wheat bread.  There is also a Smoky Mountain cookbook, that I am saving for next time! We talked a lot about the story of Cades  Cove during dinner and it was all enhanced by tasting the things we talked about and the process of cooking which the kids love helping with.


We have purchased a number of passports and gifts at various parks as well.  The kids each have a Junior Ranger bucket hat, courtesy of their grandparents one of whom is a docent at Ellis Island (It’s completely a coincidence that I have a parent that volunteers at a National Park, but’s cool right?) You can also shop online for park gear at .  Enjoy shopping, be safe and SUPPORT YOUR PARKS! Happy Holidays!

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