The National Park Service and the National Park Foundation will kick off their annual spring celebration of the parks tomorrow, as National Park Week officially gets under way. The event will run from April 20-28 and will feature a number of special activities throughout the parks, including free entry Monday through Friday of next week.
The national parks have long been favorite destinations for travelers who enjoy exploring the natural and historical settings that have earned the designation. All told, here are 401 total units that have been given the title of national park, monument, memorial, historic site or recreation area. They represent more than 17,000 miles of trails and 12,000 campsites spread out over a combined 84 million acres. Each of them has something unique to offer visitors and many of them are free all year long. There are so many park units in fact that every American lives within 100 miles of some type of national park experience. To find one near you, check out the complete list of parks here.As a big fan of the parks – and what they have to offer travelers – I am a major supporter of National Park Week and anything else that acknowledges these amazing places. But I do have to take the Park Service to task for skimping out on the fee-free days this time around. While I love that they’re allowing anyone to enter the parks without having to pay Monday through Friday, couldn’t they have found it in their hearts to extend the fee-free days to one or both weekends as well? After all, school is still in session and the summer vacation season hasn’t started yet, so how many people are actually going to get the opportunity to take advantage of the free entry? Perhaps they simply don’t want to give up the funds they bring in on weekends in the face of budget issues due to sequestration. Considering the NPS may even start charging seniors more for their lifetime passes, we may actually be on to something.
Regardless, spring is a great time to visit the national parks as everything is starting to come alive. In Yellowstone it will soon by calving season for bison and elk, while the wildflowers are already in bloom in the Great Smoky Mountains. In Yosemite, the spring thaws will swell the numerous waterfalls that dot the landscape and in Death Valley the cooler weather makes for a more comfortable experience all around.
Enjoy National Park Week and be sure to take advantage of any opportunity to explore “America’s best idea.”
Yesterday the National Park Service released the official attendance numbers for each of the parks in 2012. The list gives us some insights into the most popular destinations with travelers in the U.S. park system with some very well known and iconic parks earning the top spots. The numbers also indicate that travelers don’t seem to be growing tired of the parks either, as more than 282 million people visited a national park last year. That’s up from 2011 and the sixth highest total of all time.
Of the 59 park units that fall under the jurisdiction of the NPS, the top ten most popular, along with their attendance numbers, are as follows:
Great Smoky Mountains National Park (9,685,829)
Grand Canyon National Park (4,421,352)
Yosemite National Park (3,853,404)
Yellowstone National Park (3,447,729)
Rocky Mountain National Park (3,229,617)
Zion National Park (2,973,607)
Olympic National Park (2,824,908)
Grand Teton National Park (2,705,256)
Acadia National Park (2,431,052)
Cuyahoga Valley National Park (2,299,722)
These parks are all certainly deserving of being amongst the most visited. Each of them is a spectacular environment in their own right and it is completely understandable why they are chosen by millions of visitors on a yearly basis. The Great Smoky Mountains in particular have been on top of this list for years and the park remains a mainstay for backpackers, hikers, campers and other travelers.
If you’re a fan of the national parks and haven’t been to each of these yet, you could easily spend several vacations exploring each of these destinations. These are some of the most amazing landscapes in North America and the perfect settings for outdoor enthusiasts and adventure travelers alike.
Over the past month or so we’ve all heard stories about the impact of sequestration on America’s national parks. Severe budget cuts, brought on by Congress’ inability to come to a fiscal compromise, have resulted in a loss of services in a number of parks across the country. In order to operate within its revised budget, this year the National Park Service has been forced to close visitor centers, cut back on staff and even delay the opening of some of the parks. One of those parks is Yellowstone, where the NPS decided to delay the spring opening by two weeks. That decision was made when park officials realized they could save as much as $100,000 by not having to plow snow from the roads following the scheduled May 3 opening. But thanks to the determination and generosity of one Wyoming town, the park will now open on schedule.
The town of Cody sits 52 miles outside of Yellowstone and serves as an access point for the park’s East Gate. As you can imagine, the sleepy little village sees a lot of traffic during the summer travel months with travelers stopping by on their way in or out of the park. Last year, over 11,000 visitors passed through the East Gate in the first two weeks of the season alone. The loss of that early season traffic this year was estimated to cost Cody more than $2 million in revenue.
Cody Chamber of Commerce executive director Scott Balyo saw the delayed opening as both a potential crisis and a major opportunity. He challenged the local citizens and businesses to raise the $100,000 necessary to pay the road crews to plow snow from Yellowstone’s highways, setting a deadline of April 1 to reach their goal. The response was overwhelming with contributions ranging from as little as $10 all the way up to $10,000. Together the citizens of Cody managed to complete their fund raising efforts well ahead of schedule.
Working in conjunction with Yellowstone superintendent Dan Wenk and officials from Wyoming, the town of Cody has now arranged for state vehicles to plow the roads inside the national park. The $100,000 raised will completely cover the costs, allowing the East Gate to open on schedule. That means anyone planning a visit to Yellowstone in early May will still have access to the park despite all of the on going sequestration drama.
This is good news for fans of Yellowstone and a job well done by the citizens of Cody.
Earlier this week, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced that the Statue of Liberty will reopen to visitors this summer just in time to celebrate America’s birthday. The iconic statue, and the island it sits on, suffered damage during Hurricane Sandy in October but is now on track to return to service by July 4, 2013.
During the mega-storm that engulfed the East Coast last year, Liberty Island suffered considerable amounts of damage due to the high winds, excessive rain and flooding. Salazar indicated that Sandy managed to not only destroy the docks that grant access to the island, but also knocked out the security screening system and power grid as well. And while damage to the statue itself was minimal, railings and sidewalks crumbled, buildings were submerged under water and boilers were destroyed.
Finding sources of funding to make the repairs has become a bit of a challenge, especially in the wake of sequestration budget cuts. But the Statue is one of the top tourist attractions in all of New York City, attracting 3.7 million visitors in 2011. That means it is a revenue generator that the local economy will be happy to have back in operation for the busy summer months.
The exact date of the reopening hasn’t been determined yet, but Salazar said more information will be coming soon. He did want to stress, however, that Statue will be in tip-top shape in time for annual Independence Day celebrations. Nearby Ellis Island won’t quite be so lucky, however, as there has been no time table set for its reopening at this time.
Panther Cave in Seminole Canyon, Texas, has some of the country’s best-preserved prehistoric cave paintings. A colorful frieze of leaping panthers, feathered shamans and strange abstract shapes have puzzled researchers for decades. It appears to be telling a story of some sort, but what does that story say?
Now this new 3D video allows you to study it for yourself. Color enhancement brings out details hard to see with the naked eye. It also brings the cave (really a rock shelter) to the general public. Panther Cave is only visible from the opposite bank of the river or by a specially scheduled boat trip with a park ranger.
The paintings date to the Archaic period, a vague label stretching from 7,000 B.C. to 600 A.D. Judging from the condition of the paintings and the relatively shallow depth of the rock shelter, this former archaeologist thinks they must date to the last few centuries of that period. Take that with a grain of salt; my specialty was the Anglo-Saxon migration period.