I arrived at Charles Pinckney National Historic Site about an hour ago. I chatted with a park ranger, read about the site’s namesake, and walked the only trail. There were no stunning vistas, outdoor recreation, or wildlife to view. It’s one of the smaller sites in the National Park Service but that didn’t stop me from visiting, and it shouldn’t stop you, either.
The argument about size is probably older than Betty White (which also makes it older than sliced bread). Another facet of this never ending argument is the size of National Park Service sites. The smallest NPS site is the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial in Pennsylvania. The memorial is nothing more than the “K House” and sits on just .02 acres of land. There are over a dozen other NPS sites smaller than one acre across the country such as the John Fitzgerald Kennedy National Historic Site and Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site.
The Charles Pinckney National Historic Site in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina is one of those small sites. Covering less than thirty acres the site includes one building to explore, a covered shelter with restrooms, and a single hiking trail. Even the parking lot is small with only enough room for maybe two dozen vehicles at once.
But these smaller NPS sites have several advantages that might just make them more appealing than their larger fellow sites. Nearby Fort Sumter Monument, a coastal fortification only accessible by ferry that marks the start of the Civil War, sees about 800,000 visitors each year. The Charles Pinckney NHS, on the other hand, sees only around 50,000 visitors a year. While weekends at Fort Sumter can become crowded, noisy, and frustrating, even the busiest day of the year at this historic site is quiet peaceful by comparison.
Another benefit of smaller NPS sites is that they’re often free of charge. While the Great Smoky Mountains National Park doesn’t charge a fee (because of an old law on the books), other larger parks such as Shenandoah National Park and Yosemite National Park charge admission fees, and those fees are about to increase. Most of the smaller NPS sites such as house museums, memorial sites, and monuments are free of charge and might provide a balance to those pricier parks you visit on longer vacations.
One of the biggest benefits of smaller NPS sites is the length of time it takes to thoroughly explore what the park has to offer. Places like the Blue Ridge Parkway and Yellowstone National Park would takes days, if not weeks, to finally see it all. Of course it’s not necessary to see it all to have a good time, but then there will always be something you couldn’t do because of time. With the smaller NPS sites it’s possibly to spend an hour or two to read the history, take a guided tour, hike a trail, and fully enjoy everything the site has to offer.
Take, for example, the day I visited the Charles Pinckney NHS. When I walked into the plantation house, the only public building at the historic site, there were three people speaking with a park ranger. Including the ranger and myself that put the total park’s attendance at that moment at five. A few minutes later the family of three left and I had the park ranger all to myself for a series of questions about the Pinckney family tree.
During my lengthy discussion with the park ranger (after all I had her all to myself) I discovered a mystery: a house in Charleston built by Charles Pinckney where the Calhoun Mansion now stands. I had not read any mention of that house in tour guides manuals but sure enough the ranger showed me a painting of the house from the Gibbes Museum of Art it was gorgeous! Now I even had a mystery to solve!
As I leisurely strolled through the house I had a change to read all the information about the Pinckney family, the former plantation Snee Farm on this property, and some of the archaeological work done on the property. No one dashed in front of me and I never felt rushed to move along seeing as how I had the entire place to myself.
Outside the sun was shining and it was one of the spring days I love in South Carolina where it was warm but too early in the year for humidity. I walked along the only trail in the park through a shaded area that never even took me out of sight of the plantation house. During the entire trek I never even heard another person.
I headed back to the car without ever pulling my wallet out of my pocket, feeling rushed or crowded, and maybe for the first time had a chance to ask the ranger every question on my mind. It was pleasant, educational, and enjoyable. It was all the benefits of a smaller NPS site rolled into one experience.
Maybe next time I’ll plan a road trip to visit a few more of these smaller NPS sites. It’s light on the budget, less crowded, and easier to see it all. I can’t help but wonder what else I might discover?