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On August 25, 2016, the National Park Service will celebrate its 100th birthday and is encouraging all of us to get out and find our parks. But before we start…a little background…

  • On March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed a bill into law which established Yellowstone as our first national park.
  • President Theodore Roosevelt, often referred to as our most conservation-minded president, established five national parks. He established eighteen national monuments, including the Grand Canyon, set aside fifty-one bird sanctuaries, four national game refuges, and 100 million acres of national forest land.
  • On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill into law which established the National Park Service. The purpose of the NPS was, and still remains…”to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations”.

So, as we all make our plans to “find your park”, it has occurred to me that while yearning to visit the most popular national parks in the country, such as Yellowstone and Yosemite, we fail to realize that each of us has National Park Service sites in our own backyards. Sometimes we fail to notice them, or think we can take them in any time. Many of us do not have the vacation time, or we are not at that place in our lives when we can journey from the eastern side of the country to the far west. But we all have weekends, and most of us have holidays off.

It is Jim’s and my goal to visit each of the NPS sites in Missouri during this celebration year, August, 2015 through August, 2016. I will be writing about our adventures on this blog throughout this celebration year, and I hope you will follow along as we discover our parks, in our own backyard.

Adventure 1, Destination 1…The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail-The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial

We are beginning our National Park Service adventures with the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail as it travels through our state of Missouri, with all its interesting sites. Our first stop was the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, or as we call it, the Gateway Arch, or simply, the Arch.

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Long before Lewis and Clark began their historic journey from St. Louis on May 21, 1804, the city had been a hub of commerce and travel for a very long time. The city was founded by the French in 1764 as a fur trading post. For years trappers gathered in St. Louis with furs they had collected in the West. The furs were sold in St. Louis, then shipped via the Mississippi River, down to and out from New Orleans to all points east. The Mississippi River would be an important link in the growth, the security, and the development of the United States, and the city of St. Louis sat on its banks, midway up a continent.

After Lewis and Clark, the West was opened to settlement, and St. Louis became an important starting point. It was a place where pioneers could gather supplies before starting their journey from places like Independence and Westport in western Missouri. It was a supply depot for the western military posts and a starting point for Southwestern, as well as Western explorers. It was…the Gateway to the West!

The buildings of the original city are no longer in existence; they have long been covered over by highways, office buildings, and stadiums. It is sad we do not have those original sites to visit. St. Louis, however, continues to be a vibrant city for both commerce and travel. I-70, a major interstate highway that travels through the city, still takes visitors from east of the Mississippi, “out west”.

I love St. Louis, and I love going to the top of the Arch to look out over our “Gateway” city.

Also a part of the Jefferson National Memorial Expansion Memorial, is the Old Courthouse.

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The Old Courthouse was completed in 1862, when its dome was finally put into place. But since 1845, when it was opened, it had served as a gathering place for citizens and visitors alike to meet and discuss current events.

The Old Courthouse was also the place where Dred Scott first sued for his family’s freedom in 1846.

Dred Scott was the slave of a surgeon named Dr. John Emerson. The doctor was a military surgeon, and took Scott with him as he served at military forts in the free states of Illinois and Wisconsin. After Dr. Emerson’s death, Scott and his family were returned to Missouri, a slave state, where the doctor’s wife still lived, and still owned Dred Scott. A hearing on the matter was held in the Courthouse in 1847, followed by a trial in 1850. The jury, made up of citizens of St. Louis, determined that because the Scott family had lived for a substantial amount of time in the free states of Illinois and Wisconsin, they were entitled to their freedom.

The case eventually went to the United States Supreme Court, where the decision of the Missouri court was overturned, and Dred Scott and his family were returned as slaves to Mrs. Emerson. This decision did much to fuel the flames of discontent over the issue of slavery, eventually leading to our Civil War.

The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial is a national park where we can experience some examples of the best of America’s spirit, determination, and growth. It is also a place where we can reflect on some of our darkest moments. Hopefully, we can learn from both.

You can find out more about the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, the Old Courthouse, the Gateway Arch, and a journey to the top  of the Arch, by visiting its national park website.

So…maybe, just maybe, someday, after you have found and visited “your park”, you might find a time you can visit one of my parks, the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis, MO…the Gateway to the West.

Toasted Ravioli, St. Louis Style

If ever you are in St. Louis, you will discover that its signature dish is Toasted Ravioli. Here is an easy way to enjoy it, no matter where you live.

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  • 1 egg mixed with 2 Tbsp. milk in a small bowl
  • 3/4 c. breadcrumbs (I add 1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning to the breadcrumbs and a little salt)
  • 1/2  of a 25 ounce pkg. of cheese ravioli, frozen or defrosted
  • vegetable oil
  • 1 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
  • bottled marinara sauce

Warm the marinara and keep warm while you prepare the toasted ravioli.

Heat the oil in a heavy (I use my cast iron pan) frying pan over medium heat. It is hot enough when a few crumbs dropped into the oil sizzle.

Dip the ravioli into the egg mixture, then into a small bowl containing the crumbs and seasonings, Drop ravioli a few at a time into the hot oil. Fry until golden brown…this will take a little longer if you work with frozen ravioli. Let the ravioli drain on a rack covered with paper towel.

Sprinkle the ravioli with the Parmesan cheese. Serve with the warm marinara sauce. Enjoy! Making it yourself with this simple recipe tastes so much better than any frozen toasted ravioli you will find in the frozen food section of your supermarket.

This recipe is slightly adapted from a recipe I found on Allrecipes.com.