George Washington's birthday rates a federal holiday Monday. But while we're offering a tip of the tricorn hat to our first commander in chief, let's not forget our 28th, Woodrow Wilson, whose signature in 1916 created the National Park Service.
Figures for 2009 show more than 285 million visitors to the 394 national parks. That number includes more than 1.2 million at the three sites in the tri-state area: Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, in Georgia and Tennessee, and Little River Canyon National Preserve and Russell Cave National Monument, both in Northeast Alabama.
This weekend, two of the three have scheduled special programming. An outing to any of these federally protected sites would be a fitting celebration of Presidents Day.
Visit www.nps.gov for directions and other information.
RUSSELL CAVE NATIONAL MONUMENT
* Where: 3729 County Road 98, Bridgeport, Ala.
* Why visit: Russell Cave National Monument is the oldest rock shelter used regularly for a home in the Eastern United States. It was inhabited during all prehistoric time periods: Paleo, Archaic, Woodland and Mississippian. Virtually every culture for more than 10,000 years is represented by artifacts found here.
* Amenities: Ranger-guided tours of the cave shelter, museum exhibits, movies about the life of prehistoric people, nature hikes along Alabama Birding Trail 44, picnic areas, demonstrations of prehistoric tools and weapons.
* When to visit: Open 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. CST seven days a week year-round (except New Year's Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day).
* Admission: Free.
* Phone: 256-495-2672.
* Events: Free guided tours and tools and weapons demonstrations, offered 11 a.m.-noon daily, are a chance to get lost in 10,000 years of history. Park guides lead tours of the cave shelter, where prehistoric peoples made their home, and show the tools and weapons that were used to hunt animals such as deer, peccary and bear. Visitors can try their hand at one of the actual grinding stones used thousands of years ago and learn how nutting stones were used. For more information, e-mail Antoine-_Fletcher@nps.gov.
Also offered 2-3 p.m. Saturday is a program by Alice Tym of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, who will explain the origins of climate change 10,000 years ago. Admission is free. For more information, e-mail Shelia_Reed@nps.gov.
CHICKAMAUGA AND CHATTANOOGA NATIONAL MILITARY PARK
* Where: 3370 LaFayette Road, Fort Oglethorpe, and 110 Point Park Road, Lookout Mountain.
* Why visit: The 5,300-acre Chickamauga Battlefield was the scene of the last major Confederate victory of the Civil War, fought in September 1863. The Chickamauga campaign was followed in November by the Battles for Chattanooga, in which Union forces sent the Army of Tennessee into retreat and opened the gateway to the Deep South for Sherman's Atlanta Campaign.
* Amenities: In Fort Oglethorpe, seven-mile self-guided auto tour, monuments, historical tablets, hiking trails and horse trails; Chickamauga Battlefield Visitors Center features exhibits and Fuller Gun Collection, containing more than 300 examples of military long arms. On Lookout Mountain, the 3,000-acre site includes monuments, historic markers, trails and scenic vistas. The Visitor Center, across from the street from the Point Park entrance gate, displays artist James Walker's 13- by 30-foot "Battle of Lookout Mountain" painting, as well as self-starting audiovisuals and various artifacts and exhibits.
When to visit: All units of the park area are open sunrise to sunset. The Chickamauga Battlefield Visitor Center and Lookout Mountain Battlefield Visitor Center are open 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. daily (closed Christmas Day).
* Admission: Free to Chickamauga Battlefield and Cravens House on Lookout Mountain; $3 adults (16 and older) to Point Park at Lookout Mountain Battlefield.
* Phone: 706-866-9241.
* Events: "Jefferson Davis and the Fledgling Confederacy," 1 p.m. Saturday at the Alabama State Monument off Battleline Road in Fort Oglethorpe. In commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the inauguration of Jefferson Davis as president of the Confederacy, the park will present a one-hour program on the establishment of a government composed of the newly seceded Southern states. A ranger will describe the Confederacy's first days and the continued uncertainty of the nation as the president of the Confederacy visited the battlefield in 1863. For more information, call 423-752-5213.
LITTLE RIVER CANYON
* Where: 4322 Little River Trail, NE, Fort Payne, Ala.
* Why visit: Little River is unique in that it flows for most of its length atop Lookout Mountain. Its forested uplands, waterfalls, canyon rims and bluffs, pools, boulders and sandstone cliffs offer settings for a variety of recreational activities.
* Amenities: Bird watching, mountain biking in the backcountry area, camping, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, hunting, kayaking, rock-climbing.
* When to visit: The Little River Canyon Center is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. CT Monday-Friday. Canyon Mouth Picnic Area is open 8 a.m.-dark. Little River Falls, Martha's Falls, canyon overlooks on Scenic Drive and the backcountry are open daylight hours seven days a week. Primitive camping is allowed Feb. 1-Sept. 30, first-come, first-served.
* Admission: $3 user fee for the Canyon Mouth Picnic Area.
* Phone: 256-845-9605.
* Events: No special programming this weekend.
Many of the 394 national parks never charge an entrance fee. Even those that do have several dates throughout the year with free admission. Here are the remaining dates in 2011.
* April 16-24: National Park Week
* June 21: First day of summer
* Sept. 24: Public Lands Day
* Nov. 11-13: Veterans Day weekend