While Understaffed, National Park Service Offers Free Admission April 16-24

In celebration of its 101st anniversary, the National Park Service will be offering free entrance during National Park Week from April 16-24. Visitors can cure their spring fever by enjoying any of the nation’s 417 national parks.

Forbes reports that the establishment of the national parks started with the Act of March 1, 1872 and the opening of Yellowstone. From there, the government commissioned national monuments throughout the western region of the country. The National Park Service now has parks in the continental United States as well as Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, and Saipan, according to Forbes.

Fee free days at the parks cater to all outdoor lovers around the country. Much like 47% of adult campers who report enjoying camping simply for the joy of the activity itself, those seeking beautiful sights and fresh air can revel in the nation’s natural wonders without worrying about cost. For these campers, however, fees still apply.

This year’s National Park Week follows a particularly popular year for the Park Service. National Parks Conservation Association reports that the parks saw a record-breaking 331 million visitors in 2016, showing a 13% visitor increase over the last two years.

“Today’s report shows that our national parks are more popular than ever,” Theresa Pierno, President and CEO of National Parks Conservation said in a statement. “From the shores of Acadia to the peaks of Rocky Mountain and hallowed ground at Gettysburg, our national parks are dynamic places that visitors from around the world visit to have once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and as these numbers show, national parks are only becoming more popular.”

This increase in visitation, however, comes with a drop in staff and funding, placing significant strain on park resources. She cited a $12 billion maintenance backlog.

“But this popularity also means more stress on the staff charged with protecting our national parks. Greeting park visitors, giving tours, maintaining historic buildings, monitoring iconic wildlife and rescuing lost hikers require the dedicated efforts of tens of thousands of people,” she said. “But for years, our national parks have been woefully understaffed.”

Pierno called on the current administration and congress to take action to support the National Park Service.

“Rather than freezing the hiring of new park staff or further reducing their ranks, the Administration should exempt the Park Service entirely from the freeze and work with Congress to get the agency the resources it needs so that visitors can continue enjoying America’s favorite places,” she said.

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