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Shenandoah Land Donation Honors Late Park Service Director

Twenty seven acres of land located in Greene County, Va., just outside Stanardsville, has been donated to the National Park Service (NPS) and is now located within the boundaries of Shenandoah National Park. The donation came from an environmental nonprofit, the Conservation Fund, which acquired the property in 2022 with the intention of turning it over to the NPS to protect the area’s resources from development.

The land transfer specifically honors Roger Kennedy, the 14th Director of the NPS, who served from 1993 to 1997, thanks to a significant donation from his surviving wife, Frances. 

Roger Kennedy courtesy of NPS

Before being selected by the Clinton administration as NPS Director, Roger Kennedy had an impressively diverse career background including serving in the Navy in World War II. In addition to being a civil trial lawyer, he also wrote several books, worked as a professor, and directed the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History. 

“Roger Kennedy was a Renaissance man,” Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis said after Kennedy’s passing at 85 in 2011. “He led our agency effectively and passionately during a difficult time. Roger made it possible for everyone to have a stake in the national parks, and he made the NPS part of school curriculums throughout the nation.”

According to NPS, Kennedy drove a major expansion of the service’s accessibility and educational role in teaching American history, culture, and natural resources by expanding its presence to the internet. While working at a time when governmental downsizing of federal bureaucracy was congressional priority, he saw through eight parks being added to the national park system, many that have ties to African American and American Indian history and culture. 

“…the impulse to prune back the budgets and get rid of the newer parks, that was all code for: ‘Let’s stop paying attention to blacks, Hispanics, women,’ Kennedy said in an interview with NPS in 2005. “These were the people for whom the newer parks provided places in which their portions of the American story could be told. Those budget-cutting, ‘new park’-eliminating impulses were directed against the capaciousness of the sense of what the American past is.”

A plaque will be placed on the land to commemorate the donation on behalf of Kennedy. According to the Conservation Fund, Frances Kennedy’s donation is particularly significant for Shenandoah National Park since it relies on private funds and donations for land acquisition. The Shenandoah National Park Trust also helped make the donation possible by covering additional costs associated with acquiring the land. 

“Land donation is a perpetual and permanent way to protect Shenandoah National Park,” Jessica Cocciolone, the Trust’s executive director, stated in a press release. “Land donation is one of the best ways to ensure continued trail access, provide habitat, prevent encroaching development, mitigate light pollution, and even help to combat climate change.” 

Cover photo: Sunset in Shenandoah National Park. Courtesy of Getty Images by Michael Ver Sprill

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