Make a plan for National Park Week while saving money, getting healthier, and celebrating Earth Day. What more could you ask for? Once again the National Park Service is partnering with the National Park Foundation to present National Park Week from April 15 to 23, 2017. You have 417 national park sites to choose from and each one has a story to tell. From diverse wildlife and iconic landscapes, to vibrant culture and rich history, our National Park System has something for everyone.
Plan your visit
Every good journey starts with a plan whether it’s life or travel. Time to pull out a map and figure out how long you want to drive. Either near or far there is most likely a national park site to visit for free. The National Park Service offers an interactive map to help you discover park sites across the country. Visit park’s websites to discover what to do and see. Need a place to overnight? Lodging in national parks often require reservations months in advance. But sometimes people cancel so be persistent. Keep an eye on the weather which can change suddenly in nature and pack accordingly. High elevation areas may still be closed for the winter. Arrive early in the day because you won’t be alone with others wanting a similar experience. Know before you go.
The 118 National Park Service sites that normally charge entrance fees will offer free admission on the weekends of April 15, 16, 22, and 23 during National Park Week. 2017 also has 10 fee free days to visit your national parks. And if you’re over 62, buy your Senior Park Pass before the price goes up Oct 1st from $10 to $80 for the rest of your life. If you’re younger than that think about buying the annual America the Beautiful Park Pass for $80. Entrance visiting three to four large parks in one year can cost more than that. There is also a free Access pass for disabilities, a free annual US military pass, and a free annual 4th grade pass through the Every Kid in a Park program.
Have questions even after your research? Park Rangers in the visitor center are happy to help. Let them know how long you’ll visit and what activities you seek. The visitor center displays often answer questions too. Plus they provide valuable information to make your visit more pleasant and informed. Check the posted Ranger programs. Maybe take a phone photo for later reference. Pick up a Junior Ranger book.
National Junior Ranger Day on April 15th kicks off National Park Week. Become a Junior Ranger and learn while you earn a park-specific Junior Ranger badge. Ask about a “Not so Junior Ranger” program that some parks offer. Besides, you’re never too old to learn. I currently have 30 Junior Ranger badges that I earned completing all the activities in the books and I always learn something while having fun. As a summer Park Ranger I see kids and adults learning and earning badges all the time.
Taking a walk in nature is known to be good for both your physical and mental health. Supported by increasing scientific evidence, many medical doctors now write prescriptions for the outdoors as an antidote for ailments such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and depression. On April 23, the second annual Park Prescription Day, will be filled with activities that showcase the physical, mental, and psychological health benefits of time in nature. Ask about “healthy hiker”. I earned a pin for hiking at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.
Saturday April 22, Earth Day aims to inspire awareness of and appreciation for earth’s environment. Since 1970 people in the US have celebrated Earth Day and 20 years later the idea went global. Many national park sites offer special activities. I prefer to think of every day as Earth Day. If you can’t get to a national park site April 22nd and value science, take a public stand and find a March for Science event.
Sometimes it’s the places in our own backyard we visit last. Vacations often take us to far way places. So maybe it’s time to explore that nearby national park site or return and see it with different eyes. Hike a new trail. Challenge yourself but be prepared and know your limits. Attend a Ranger program or guided walk to learn more about the site. Learn a new skill like birding, tracking, or identifying plants. Sit somewhere quietly and absorb the view or gaze at the night sky. Slow down and stop to smell the roses flowers along the way.
Connect to a place
Because so many people are used to being connected by phone and internet don’t be surprised if a remote park location has no to little signal. It’s OK. You’ll survive. Connect to the place instead and share later.
Budget cuts over many years have affected hiring and maintenance backlog for the National Park Service. Let Congress know how you feel about that. (Note links on sidebar to find your representatives.) There are other options to support America’s legacy. While shopping at park sites look for partners like natural history associations who put profits back into the parks. Donate your time and become a Volunteer in Parks (VIP) by sharing your knowledge and skills. Donate to the National Park Foundation, the official charity of America’s national parks.
You have to know how much I love visiting, exploring, and sharing our public lands. I believe many of you join me in appreciation of “America’s Best Idea” creating national park sites to protect and preserve our significant history and landscapes. If you support this idea, please get out there and visit these special places. No excuses, it’s free admission on the weekends of April 15, 16, 22, and 23 during National Park Week.
Which park site will you be visiting over National Park Week?
I am a seasonal federal employee yet this article is not representing the National Park Service and is my own opinion.