National Park Service Adds Fish Tacos, Lentil Soup And More To Menus This Summer

Starting this summer, the National Park Service (NPS) won’t just serve up greasy cheeseburgers with a side of fries. A new initiative is bringing healthy, sustainable options to snack bars and restaurants inside parks across the country.

Camp staples like hot dogs and summer favorites like ice cream will remain on many menus, but additions like fish tacos, lentil soup, black bean sliders, yogurt parfaits and organic bakery items will give visitors healthier choices. In addition to offering a wider range of options, the NPS is also encouraging concessioners to work with local farms whenever possible.

“There is no reason that you should have to take a vacation from eating well when you visit a national park,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis, who spearheaded the move to raise the bar on food standards and sustainable food guidelines, in a press release.

It makes sense that the NPS is responding to growing consumer demand for healthy food, especially in parks where people are hiking, biking and otherwise being active. Kids might not be happy about substituting their french fries for vegetables and fruit (which according to USA Today they can do at the Grand Canyon South Rim), but the new menus will make trips to parks a healthier, happier experience for everyone.

[via USA Today]

‘Sesame Street’ Explores The National Parks

The creative minds behind the long-running PBS children’s television series “Sesame Street” have joined forces with the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation to produce a series of videos designed to connect young children with nature. The six videos, which can be found on YouTube, star popular characters Elmo and Murray who are joined by Park Rangers from Grand Canyon National Park and Gateway National Recreation Area. Those rangers help teach viewers about such topics as natural habitats, seasons and animal families.

The videos are obviously aimed at small children but if you’re a fan of the national parks you’ll probably still find them enjoyable as well. They offer a nice glimpse inside the two featured parks while also providing some good information about the natural world around us. So, gather up the kids, crowd around the computer and load up the clips. Who knows, you might even learn something while watching them too!

Summer Travel Idea: Heritage Trips

Summer travel season is upon us, and while many consider a week at the beach a worthy summer vacation, we have another suggestion.

The National Park Service’s African American Experience Fund (the only nonprofit partner of the National Park Service) offers a number of heritage trip tour itineraries that combine some of the country’s best attractions with a vibrant trip through history.

The nearly 50 sites are spread throughout the country, and many are clustered around a single state or region, making it simple to take a single or multi-day driving trip. The website also offers an easy-to-use map and itinerary generator to custom design a trip that suits your individual goals and needs.

We only wish it was this easy to plan heritage travel outside of this particular portion of the population!

[Image Credit: National Park Service’s African American Experience Fund]

National Park Week Begins Tomorrow!

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.”

[Photo Credit: National Park Service]

Should Seniors Pay More For National Parks?

Besides being able to snag early bird specials and senior discounts at museums, there isn’t exactly a laundry list of tangible perks when it comes to aging. But one benefit – the ability to purchase a lifetime access pass to all U.S. national parks for just $10 – might soon go away.

CNN is reporting Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat, questioned whether or not aging Americans could afford upping the economical, one-time fee during a House Oversight hearing on forced cuts at parks, museums and archives. According to the news outlet, the National Park Service is currently facing a $153 million budget gap, and simply doubling the price of a senior pass could potentially gain the agency $10 million per year. It’s only a fraction of the amount of money needed, but it’s a start.

Currently, adults under the age of 62 can purchase a multiple-park pass for $80, but it only lasts a year. At $10 for life, the senior pass gets older people into all 391 national parks, monuments, battlefields, military or historical parks, seashores, recreation areas, rivers and trails. So what do you think? Will hiking up the fee really cause dissension amongst retirees, or could it be a simple, affordable way to get more money flowing into national parks? Weigh in below.

[Photo credit: Jkinsocal / Wikimedia Commons]