It May Be the Prettiest NPS Site You've Never Heard of, But that's Likely to Change

Fall scene in the park.

Fall is a great season for enjoying a walk in the park. Photo by Nora Mitchell, Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park.

It may be the prettiest NPS site you've never heard of, but that's likely to change. This park will be one of those featured by the U. S. Mint in the recently announced "America the Beautiful Quarters" series, and the next six weeks could be the best season of the year to visit this area.

Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park and the surrounding Vermont countryside could easily be the setting for a Norman Rockwell or Grandma Moses painting. It's also home to a collection of nearly 400 paintings and prints, including Hudson River School landscapes of places that are now national parks. During a visit to the park, you can view some of the collection, including paintings by Thomas Cole, David Johnson, and Albert Bierstadt of Yosemite, Golden Gate, and Grand Teton.

Visitors to the park don't have to limit their enjoyment of natural beauty to the work of famous artists. There's plenty of the real thing on the park's 643 acres, where you can

Walk through one of Vermont's most beautiful landscapes, under the shade of sugar maples and 400-year-old hemlocks, along winding woodland carriage roads and trails. On the gentle slopes of Mount Tom you will find mountain pastures, a mysteriously-named pond, and spectacular views of nearby hills and valleys. In the winter the carriage roads and trails are groomed for cross-country skiing or snowshoeing.

Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park is located in Woodstock, Vermont, which some people have called "the prettiest small town in America." A park publication provides some background on the site's name:

The park is named for George Perkins Marsh, author of Man and Nature (1864) and one of the nation's first environmental thinkers. It is also named for Frederick Billings, a 19th-century lawyer and railroad entrepreneur who bought the property from the Marsh family and who was deeply influenced by Marsh's conservation thinking. Billings established a progressive dairy farm and professionally managed forest on the property.

His granddaughter Mary French Rockefeller and her husband Laurance Spelman Rockefeller sustained Billings' practices in forestry and farming during the latter half of the twentieth century. His granddaughter Mary French Rockefeller and her husband Laurance Spelman Rockefeller sustained Billings' practices in forestry and farming during the latter half of the twentieth century.

As a teenager, Laurance S. Rockefeller toured Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, and Mesa Verde with Horace Albright. Later in life, Laurance would donate lands to create Virgin Islands NP and Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller NHP. He was the first conservationist to receive the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor.

Continuing the property's agricultural legacy, the Billings Farm & Museum was opened in 1983 as an operating dairy farm and a living museum of Vermont's rural past.
Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park, which includes the property's residential core and 550-acre forest, was created in 1992 as a gift to the American people by Mary and Laurance Rockefeller. Today the national historical park is an operating partner of the adjoining Billings Farm & Museum, and shares public parking and visitor orientation space at the Farm & Museum's visitor center.

Although many people are not yet aware of this relatively new park, publicity about the U.S. Mint's new America the Beautiful Quarters program may help change it. Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller NHP was selected as the site to be depicted on Vermont's quarter in that upcoming series, although that coin won't be released until the year 2020.

The approaching fall color season in New England may be one of the most scenic times of the year to visit the park, but don't wait too late to come. Tours of the Mansion and gardens are open for guided tours from Memorial Day weekend (late May) to October 31, and the park visitor center is open during those same months. Check the park website for details about reservations for tours and other activities.

One of the park's special events, the Forest Festival Weekend, will be held September 26-27, 2009. Click here for more details.

The park website includes information about things to do, along with maps and driving directions to the site.

Comments

A beautiful place, thanks in large part to Rockefeller and the fact he had lots of money. He was definitely a conservationist, but he also had his own interest at mind. He liked the view from the mansion, but he knew it would all be developed and his view would be ruined. So he bought every piece of property within eyesight of it. Thus he preserved his view, and we continue to benefit from that today!

Be sure to check out the ornate "playhouse" located behind the mansion, with it's swimming pool and bowling alley. The Park Service visitor center is in the former car barn and is a great example of adaptive reuse.