The National Park Service announced that the public will be invited to experience all national parks, without entrance fees, on four days in 2018.
That’s down from 10 free days last year and 16 in 2016, the year the system celebrated its 100th birthday.
The free day pass program began in 2002. Until 2008, the start of the recession, two free days were offered annually. That number increased dramatically to nine days per year to help financially pinched Americans enjoy the park system, officials have said.
According to a statement by the Park Service the number of admission-free days was cut to help cut its $11.93 billion deferred maintenance deficit.
According to a press release, the four entrance fee-free days for 2018 will be:
- January 15 – Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
- April 21 – First Day of National Park Week
- September 22 – National Public Lands Day
- November 11 – Veterans Day
The entrance fee waiver for the fee-free days does not cover amenity or user fees for activities such as camping, boat launches, transportation, or special tours.
“National parks connect all of us with our country’s amazing nature, culture, and history,” said National Park Service Deputy Director Michael T. Reynolds.
“The days that we designate as fee-free for national parks mark opportunities for the public to participate in service projects, enjoy ranger-led programs, or just spend time with family and friends exploring these diverse and special places. We hope that these fee-free days offer visitors an extra incentive to enjoy their national parks in 2018.”
Normally, 118 of the 417 national park service sites charge a weekly entrance fee of $25 or $30. The other 299 national parks do not have entrance fees.
And every day is a fee free day if your family has a 4th grader courtesy of the Every Kid in a Park program.
There are also free or discounted passes available for seniors, current members of the military, and disabled citizens.
The annual $80 America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass allows unlimited entrance to more than 2,000 federal recreation areas, including all national parks that charge an entrance fee.
Other federal land management agencies offering their own fee-free days in 2018 include the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Forest Service, and Army Corps of Engineers.
The Park Service has proposed raising the cost to $70 at 17 busy parks including Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Acadia, Shenandoah, Joshua Tree, Arches, and Zion.
The agency estimates the increase would generate an additional $70 million to help address backlogged maintenance and infrastructure projects. Opponents, including attorneys general from 10 states, say the higher costs could turn away visitors and might not raise that much money.
On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the act that created the National Park Service “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for future generations.”
Today, the National Park System includes more than 84 million acres and is comprised of 417 sites with 28 different designations, including national park, national historical park, national monument, national recreation area, national battlefield, and national seashore. Collectively, these sites contain more than 18,000 miles of trails, 27,000 historic and prehistoric structures, 247 species of threatened and endangered species, and 167 million museum items.
Last year, 331 million people visited national parks spending $18.4 billion, which supported 318,000 jobs across the country and had a $35 billion impact on the U.S. economy.
National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.
—Wallace Stegner, 1983