Visit Yellowstone with Ken Burns this winter

Filmmaker Ken Burns and his longtime collaborator Dayton Duncan have partnered with travel company Tauck to create a series of classic travel itineraries based around his films. These trips, entitled Ken Burns American Journeys, offer travelers the opportunity to experience Civil War battlegrounds, jazz festivals, and, of course, national parks from the unique perspective of Burns himself.

In January of 2012, Tauck will give travelers a once in a lifetime chance to meet both Burns and Duncan, in one of the most magical environments possible – Yellowstone National Park. Highlights of the trip will include a visit to Lamar Valley, home to one of the most diverse displays of wildlife in North America, and an excursion to the Geyser Basin to explore Yellowstone’s famous geothermal activity. Visitors will also have the opportunity to visit the park’s interior via snowcoach, soak in the hot springs of Mammoth, and enjoy a keynote address from Burns himself. For more information on this itinerary, including pricing and dates, click here.

For those unable to make that trip, Tauck is offering another winter Yellowstone option as well. The nine-day Wonderland: Yellowstone in Winter itinerary has six departures spread out across January, February, and March, and features much of the same activities above, minus the famous documentarian.

Burns’ fabulous six-part series The National Parks: America’s Best Idea is a love letter to the amazing places that make up the national park system in the U.S. The filmmaker’s appreciation for the parks comes through in these itineraries from Tauck as well, with Yellowstone being right at the top of the list. Fans of the national parks and Burns won’t want to miss out on the opportunity to visit Yellowstone with the man himself.

This past January I was fortunate enough to visit Yellowstone in the winter myself, and I can tell you that it truly is an amazing experience. Even if you’ve been to the park before, if you haven’t visited in winter, you really haven’t seen what Yellowstone has to offer. The quiet solitude gives the world’s first national park a peaceful tranquility and the pristine snow makes it even more beautiful than it is in the summer. The fact that practically no-one visits during the colder months doesn’t hurt either.

Travel trends: 2010 to be the best year ever for America’s parks? [update]

More than 285.6 million people visited America’s national parks in 2009, making it the fifth busiest year in the 94-year history of the national park system. About 10 million fewer people visited the parks in 2008. The all-time visitation record was in 1987 with 287.2 million visitors.

Weak Economy Was Good for Park Visitors
During a phone interview with David Barna, the chief of public affairs for the park service, he talked about several factors that contributed to the increase in visitation, including:
1.) publicity generated last year by President Obama’s family visit to Yellowstone and Grand Canyon;
2.) buzz created by the Ken Burns PBS documentary that aired in September;
3.) three highly publicized weekends in 2009 when entrance fees to the parks were waived.However, the weak U.S. economy was probably the most significant factor in the increase in visitors in 2009. The Euro remained strong against the dollar, which is why more than 40 million travelers came from outside the U.S. That’s a 50 percent increase in international visitors since 2001.

Low gasoline prices in the U.S., and the overall value of a national park vacation in any economy, also factored into the increase in visitors, according to park service officials.

Assuming all things remain constant, 2010 should be a very good year for the parks — maybe the best ever. By looking at the trendline in the chart above, it’s easy to see that 2010 could see as many as 290 million visitors — a new record for the parks.

The other top five attendance years in descending order were:
* 1999 with 287.1MM visitors;
* 1998 with 286.8MM visitors;
* 2000 with 285.9MM visitors;
* 2009 with 285.6MM visitors.

The Great Smokies and the Grand Canyon Pull Their Weight
The most visited national park was the Great Smoky Mountain National Park with 9.4 million visitors. Located on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, the Smokies celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2009 and is one of the parks that always offers free admission. The Grand Canyon pulled in nearly 4.5MM visitors in 2009.

The Blue Ridge Parkway, which is not a designated park (and is therefore not included in the chart above) but is a unit of the national park system, received nearly 16 million visitors in 2009. It’s celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2010.

2010 also marks the 30th anniversary of President Jimmy Carter’s signature on the Alaska National Interest Land Conservation Act, which added 47 million acres and doubled the size of the national park system. Depending on how successful promotions around these events are, 2010 could be a banner year for the parks system as a whole.

UPDATE: The National Park Service has announced that during National Park Week (April 17-24), the entrance fee to all of its 392 parks will be waived.

Data source: Travel Industry Association and AAA

Gadlinks for Friday 10.2.09

As we say here on the Islands, “It’s Aloha Friday, no work ’til Monday,” and that motto couldn’t sound more precious than right now. It’s been quite a week — complete with a tsunami in Samoa and Indonesia’s SECOND devastating earthquake. I think we’re all ready for some R&R, so how ’bout I provide some good ‘ole Gadlinks to get your weekend started smoothly?

‘Til Monday, have a great weekend!

More Gadlinks here.

National Public Lands Day: enter a park for free and volunteer

Maybe you took advantage of one of the fee-free weekends at a national park this summer? That was for 147 parks. Here’s a free day that’s valid at all 391 national parks.

National Public Lands Day is on Saturday, September 26th.

It’s not just a time to get into a park for free, but it’s a time to participate, if you can. Organizers of the event hope to honor the parks with both celebration and service. Volunteer activities and festivities will be specially tailored for each of the parks.

The reward for your troubles if you volunteer? A sneak preview of Ken Burns’ new documentary “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.”

A few of the special events of the day:

Minute Man National Historic Park
(Massachusetts): Celebrate its 50th anniversary as a national park on the same day. Recently rehabilitated buildings will be open to the public for the first time.

George Washington Carver National Monument (Missouri): Volunteer with others to remove invasive exotic plants in the park’s woodlands and prairie.

Rocky Mountain National Park (Colorado): Build a new connector trail along the Continental Divide between the park and U.S. Forest Service lands. Local musicians will perform music from the Ken Burns’ movie.