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  • Mikah Meyer

3 Ways to See Boston's National Parks

Units #51, 52 & 53 / 413

- Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area

- Boston African American National Historic Site

- Boston National Historical Park

One city with so much history.

Overflowing with exposed brick buildings, cobblestone streets, and New England charm from centuries of settlers, Boston provides a glimpse into the world that created America.

Prominent on that journey to the past is the Boston National Historical Park and the famous Freedom Trail that crosses through Boston's downtown.

Beginning at the Boston Common city park, it takes walkers on a 2.5-mile trail past houses of worship, sites of demonstration, markets, and homes that all helped birth the American Revolution.

These 16 ordinary spots end at the Bunker Hill Monument, sharing along the way the extraordinary story of how the United States gained its independence from Britain.

Take this video tour of the sites as they existed the day I visited, or plan your own visit to walk the trail.

Though significantly shorter than the Freedom Trail, the Black Heritage Trail provides an extension of Boston's nation-building history through the Boston African American National Historic Site.

These 14 sites, spread among the Beacon Hill neighborhood, signify the homes, houses of worship, schools, and Underground Railroad sites of Boston's 19th-century, free African American community.

Of these former businesses and organizations, only the African Meeting House and Abiel Smith School are open to the public; both managed by the Museum of African American History. But that doesn't stop visitors from walking the streets of Beacon Hill and seeing how these locations have transformed over the years.

While some have remained houses, others have been significantly changed, such as the former Charles Street Meeting House which is now a commercial property.

Whatever their new dwellings, all continue to be testaments of how passionate and committed individuals have worked to shape a more perfect union.

One of Boston's individuals who sought a better country was famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead. In 1892 he was building the nearby World's End when he noticed the dismal state of the islands dotting Boston's harbor.

Though nearly 100 years later (in 1996), a Massachusetts U.S. Senator introduced legislation to create the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area, protecting 34 islands that had been deteriorating for centuries of human abuse.

A perfect example of this is Spectacle Island.

Only a 30-minute ferry ride from downtown Boston, it had once been an island of gambling and pleasure, then later a place for recycling dead horses, and finally a city dump. The nasty scent that this production wafted to coastal communities encouraged Boston to create something more pleasant.

So, using dirt from 1992's Big Dig that built an interstate under downtown Boston, Spectacle Island was transformed. The return of native animals to the now green island confirmed nature's ability to reclaim itself.

Today it serves as a place for Bostonians to escape the city's noise, claustrophobia, and smog (see below photo). Sitting atop Spectacle Island's highest point, visitors can eat a picnic meal while watching planes cross Logan airport, or simply enjoy a view of Boston's skyline.

Boston Harbor Islands public ferries, with multiple daily roundtrips to Spectacle and other islands, preserves the opportunity for the common man to experience the Harbor Islands; meaning you don't have to own one of the private boats seen speeding around Boston Harbor all day.

However, with a harbor as storied at Boston's, you might not complain at the random boats that pass through its waters.

It's special moments like this that remind a Boston visitor, once again, what a key role the city played in American history.

Downtown Boston Highlight

1. Any Ferry into the Harbor

While the Freedom and Black Heritage Trails are givens for any visitor to Boston's downtown, the real treat was getting on the water. The views it provided--and the chance to soak them in on a nearby island--were the best part of Boston's skyscrapers.

Upcoming Units (COMMENT with recommendations. What should I do at each park? Local interesting detours? Food stops?)

Massachusetts to Rhode Island to Connecticut

-Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site

-Salem Maritime National Historic Site

-Adams National Historical Park

-Cape Cod National Seashore

-Frederick Law Olmstead National Historic Site

-John Fitzgerald Kennedy National Historic Site

-Longfellow House-Washington's Headquarters National Historic Site

-New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park

-Roger Williams National Memorial

-Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park

-Springfield Armory National Historic Site

-Weir Farm National Historic Site

The journey thus far:

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