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Castle Clinton @ Battery Park

Castle Clinton National Monument

Battery Park, Southern Manhattan

June 3, 2018

Majestic mountains, deep canyons, bald eagles soaring and elk walking in front of your car. This is what I picture when I imagine a National Park.

I also picture my mother coming home from fighting wild fires, her clothes steeped in smoke. A dark smell that whispered "safety" as I snuck into her closet to inhale and pressed my small body against the leather pants. I loved hugs when she returned from 3 weeks on a burn. Her long blonde hair trailed smoke that blew my nightmares away. Because of my mom, I've never been afraid of fire.

I grew up around national parks, and spent my first two years just outside Yosemite, where my mom managed the fire program. Controlled burns benefit ecology and keep people safe from unexpected flames lit by discarded cigarette butts or lightning. National parks are part of my childhood.

So imagine my surprise when I learned that National Monuments and Recreation Areas are also counted among notable Park Service sites. San Francisco's Golden State National Recreation Area boasted 14.9 million visitors in 2017 - second only to the Blue Ridge Parkway (basically a road which is 469 miles long). Both fall into the same broad governmental category as Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone!

Castle Clinton National Monument, the jumping-off point for today's Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island tours, claims a staggering 4.7 million visitors in 2017, placing it 14th or 15th on the list of most visited National Park Sites.

I find this absolutely smashing.

The largest stadium in the USA is home to Michigan Wolverines football with capacity for 107,601. It would take 44 sold-out football games to equal Castle Clinton visitorship in a year.

Only 3.5 people visit the Empire State Building each year, meaning 1.2 million people get lost somewhere between 33rd and Battery Park.

On the other hand, the infamous Gangnam Style video garnered 803,700,000 views in 4 months in 2012. That's 171 people dancing for every 1 person walking through Castle Clinton.

In 2017, the Nintendo Switch sold 4.7 units in its first 4 months.  Put that way, and Castle Clinton seems merely a pimple on the consumerist ass of the world.

I feel like these stats should say more than they actually do; like we should obtain a collective enlightened "oh" about capitalism and popularity versus profound American monuments.

In truth, all I'm left with is sadness. Sadness compounded by the fact that I doubt many visitors to Castle Clinton acknowledge its remarkable past as a fort, cultural emporium, immigration center, and aquarium. Today, despite being restored to resemble its original life as a military defensive fort, it houses a few dusty display cases and the ticket booth for the Statue of Liberty.

All those tourists waiting to buy overpriced passes to snap selfies with America's leading lady, some probably playing with a Nintendo Switch because their parents dragged them here.

I have an "oh" moment about capitalism, but the people around me return to their iPhones. I turn around to read the information packet again, saddened, but glad that the fort still stands.

At least a handful of our cultural sites haven't been reduced to YouTube videos.

Not yet. Not if I can help it.

Image courtesy National Park Service website
Image courtesy Steven Markos, www.npplan.com

Castle Clinton National Monument is free to the public. There is a small visitor center with historic photos of New York City, and information around the perimeter that describes various archaeological digs on the site.

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