The National Park Service’s (NPS) April 21-29 “National Park Week” is a way to celebrate and bring awareness to the many unique parks across our country.
This year’s theme is “Park Stars,” which celebrates the rangers, volunteers, park features, geological formations and, of course, the stars in the night sky that make our parks inimitable national treasures.
To look across the haze of the Blue Ridge Mountains on a misty morning, to feel the infinite size of the Grand Canyon, or to stand in Independence Hall and hear the echoes of history is to be a part of the American experience. And the best part is that these experiences are in our own backyards.
Whether you are in Connecticut or Colorado, in a city or deep in the countryside, there is a park for you and your family to explore this week. Check out the “Find Your Park” website to locate sites in your state. The page has a feature that allows visitors to find parks based on activities and interests: in accordance with this year’s theme, there’s even a category to find the best parks for stargazing.
Once you’ve found your park, here are some ways the NPS is celebrating:
- Fee-Free Day: One of four fee-free dates in 2018. Visitors to any NPS site paid no admission fee.
- National Junior Ranger Day: Parks had activities and opportunities for the littlest explorers to earn their Junior Ranger badge.
- Volunteer Day: Visitors volunteered at events at parks and joined the ranks of the 339,626 volunteers who served our parks in 2016.
- Earth Day: This Earth Day, the NPS celebrated the 50th anniversary of the National Trails System and the Wild & Scenic Rivers System.
- Military & Veteran Recognition Day: The NPS—which employs 5,800 active-duty military and veterans—will honor America’s finest with Military & Veterans Recognition Day. This is a great opportunity to get out there and visit a National Military Park, National Battlefield, National Battlefield Park or National Battlefield Site.
- National Park Rx Day: National Park Week concludes with National Park Rx Day, a special day to draw awareness to the Park Rx initiative. The program collaborates with health care providers and community partners to utilize parks and trails to improve individual and community health.
National parks are a wealth of education and adventure, but they also have a Teton-sized benefit to the American economy. In 2016—the National Park Service’s 100th birthday—visitors spent $18.4 billion in local gateway communities (towns and cities in the vicinity of national park sites). Additionally, 318,000 jobs are supported by national park visitor spending.
And those hundreds of thousands of jobs are needed: from 2015 to 2017, there was a nearly eight percent increase in national park visitation.
However, as visitor numbers increase, it is important that there is funding available for the national parks. Underfunding and an aging infrastructure has caused a backlog of maintenance repairs estimated at $11.6 billion. Ensuring that the parks get consistent funding will address the maintenance issues and will benefit not just the parks themselves, but the communities and the people who live around the parks.
The national parks—the majestic, the awe-inspiring, the historical—are some of our nation’s greatest treasures. Get out there this week and see for yourself the shining stars of the National Park Service.