Though protected lands in the US are open to all, they’re not necessarily accessible to all – except for a handful of times per year, including today, when the National Park Service (NPS) waives entrance fees at every site in the country.
There are 423 National Park Service sites across the US, with representation in each state and territory as well as the District of Columbia. About one-third of those sites charge an entrance fee – anywhere from $5 to $35 – though today, August 4, is one of the six free-entrance days the NPS announced for 2021.
Each of the fee-free days commemorates a significant event. Today is the one-year anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act. The remaining free-entrance days to US national parks are August 25 (the birthday of the NPS), September 25 (National Public Lands Day), and November 11 (Veterans Day). Previous entrance-free days in 2021 included January 18 (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day) and April 17 (the first day of National Park Week).
Zion is one of 11 Utah parks offering free-entrance days © Galyna Andrushko/Shutterstock
Of course, some people qualify for free access year-round. Active-duty military aren’t required to pay, and last November, veterans and gold star families were famously granted a lifetime pass to all federal lands managed by the Department of the Interior. Some younger folks get in free as well: as part of the Every Kid Outdoors program.
“Throughout the country, every national park provides a variety of opportunities to get out in nature, connect with our common heritage and experience the vast array of benefits that come from spending time outdoors,” counselor to the NPS secretary Margaret Everson said in an earlier press release. “Hopefully the fee-free days will encourage everyone to spend some time in their national parks.”
This year, Americans have needed little encouragement to visit national parks. Lands controlled by NPS have seen an increase in visitors, particularly among first timers, as pandemic-weary hikers, ramblers and day-trippers hit popular parks in their droves. Yellowstone welcomed 40% more visitors in April this year, compared to the same period in 2019, the Associated Press reports; while Grand Teton reported 48% more and Glacier National Park saw a 50% increase.
The boom in numbers has been unsustainable. Indeed it has become somewhat of a crisis with Congress stepping in on July 28 to discuss potential solutions to curb overcrowding, as the NPS continues to report environmental and infrastructure issues such as trail erosion, trash and vandalism, long queues, and traffic jams across US national parks.
“It’s great to see so many Americans taking advantage of these parks. It is, after all, why we protect these lands in the first place,” Senator Angus King said at the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources . “However, at the same time, we must recognize that overcrowding in the parks itself can degrade the natural resources and wildlife that these units are designed to protect. We can, accidentally, love our parks to death.”
While real solutions have yet to be implemented or even agreed, some parks, including Yosemite and Rocky Mountain National Park, are trying to get ahead of the issue by introducing timed entry to better manage crowds, while others have added more shuttle busses to ease traffic jams. The NPS is also encouraging people to try some lesser-visited alternatives this year to take the heat off the most popular national parks.
For more information, visit nps.gov.
This article was first published on December 22, 2020 and updated on August 4, 2021.
You may also like:
The post US national parks are free to enter for two days in August, including today
appeared first on Lonely Planet Travel News.