Visitors to Effigy Mounds National Monument, north of Marquette, Iowa, try throwing an atlatl as American Indians might have in years past while hunting. It was offered as a park ranger program that day in 2006. Atlatl is pronounced like you're saying "cattle" twice without the "c." LISA BRAINARD/BLUFF COUNTRY READER
Visitors to Effigy Mounds National Monument, north of Marquette, Iowa, try throwing an atlatl as American Indians might have in years past while hunting. It was offered as a park ranger program that day in 2006. Atlatl is pronounced like you're saying "cattle" twice without the "c." LISA BRAINARD/BLUFF COUNTRY READER
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As summer winds down, you still might have a chance to take a vacation somewhere. Let me throw out an idea. Pay a visit to a national park.

All right, I am biased favorably toward the many offerings of the National Park Service (NPS). They’re scenic, historic, educational and so much more. I’ve read there are over 400 from which to choose.

How very timely — on Monday, Aug. 25, free admission is offered throughout the NPS properties. You might want to sing “happy birthday,” because it is the birthday of the National Park Service. Isn’t it nice that WE receive the present?

Another free admission day this fall occurs Sept. 27, National Public Lands Day. Also of note, around three-quarters of the park units don’t even charge admission. The NPS website states: “Only 133 of our country’s 401 national parks usually charge an entrance fee.”  For example, Effigy Mounds National Monument, north of Marquette, Iowa, is a free visit. It’s one of the closest NPS units in our area. And it’s near and dear to me. I’ve been visiting it since a good old school bus took my grade school class many years ago.

The national monument’s website states:

The Late Woodland Period (1400-750 before present) along the Upper Mississippi River and extending east to Lake Michigan is associated with the culture known today as the Effigy Moundbuilders. The construction of effigy mounds was a regional cultural phenomenon. Mounds of earth in the shapes of birds, bear, deer, bison, lynx, turtle, panther or water spirit are the most common images.

“Like earlier groups, the Effigy Moundbuilders continued to build conical mounds for burial purposes, but their burial sites lacked the trade goods of the preceding Middle Woodland Culture.

“The Effigy Moundbuilders also built linear or long rectangular mounds that were used for ceremonial purposes that remain a mystery. Some archeologists believe they were built to mark celestial events or seasonal observances. Others speculate they were constructed as territorial markers or as boundaries between groups.

“The animal-shaped mounds remain the symbol of the Effigy Mounds Culture. Along the Mississippi River in northeast Iowa and across the river in southwest Wisconsin, two major animal mound shapes seem to prevail: the bear and the bird. Near Lakes Michigan and Winnebago, water spirit earthworks — historically called turtle and panther mounds — are more common.

“The mounds preserved at Effigy Mounds National Monument are considered sacred by many Americans, especially the Monument's 12 affiliated American Indian tribes. A visit offers opportunities to contemplate the meanings of the mounds and the people who built them. The 200 plus American Indian mounds are located in one of the most picturesque sections of the Upper Mississippi River Valley.”

Affiliated tribes listed include:

Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska

Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma

Otoe-Missouria Tribe of Oklahoma

Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin

Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska

Upper Sioux Community of Minnesota

Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community In the State of Minnesota

Lower Sioux Indian Community of Mdewakanton Sioux Indians of Minnesota

Prairie island Indian Community In the State of Minnesota

Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa

Sac and Fox Nation of Missouri in Kansas and Nebraska

Sac and Fox Nation of Oklahoma

Crow Creek Sioux of South Dakota

Omaha Tribe of Nebraska

Santee Sioux of Nebraska

Standing Rock Sioux of North Dakota

Yankton Sioux of South Dakota

Check out a lot more information at http://www.nps.gov/efmo

Minnesota’s national parks include the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, a 72-mile stretch of the upper Mississippi from the towns of Dayton and Ramsey to just south of Hastings; the Saint Croix National Scenic River, which includes the Namekagon River in Wisconsin; Grand Portage National Monument; Voyageurs National Monument; and Pipestone National Monument.

The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin is about the same distance away as some of these. (Are you getting some ideas?)

Make the end of summer extra fun with a trip to a national park. And keep the parks in mind for future trips, too. With all that said, I’ve been keeping track of national parks, monuments, battlefields and more that I’ve visited. In one of my upcoming columns — perhaps next week — I’ll share the list here. Then you’ll know who you can contact if you’re wondering about a park. I believe the total number is over 60. I challenge you to get your list together and then think about where you next want to go.