Visit a park, buck the trend: final fee-free weekend

The third and final “fee-free weekend,” during which the National Park Service waives entrance fees, occurs next weekend, August 15 and 16, at all national sites that charge an entrance fee. “Fee-free” sites include Acadia, New England’s only national park; the Cape Cod National Seashore; and the Valley Forge National Historic Park in Pennsylvania.

Since I first wrote about the Park Service’s fee-free weekends, I’ve learned that visits to the country’s 391 national park sites, after 50 years of steady increases, have declined steeply since the 1980s. A study in the 2008 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA by two conservation ecologists indicates that visits per person are down 25% from a peak in 1987.

Researchers Oliver Pergams and Patricia Zaradic found “evidence for a pervasive and fundamental shift away from nature-based recreation” in the United States and elsewhere. In their report, the biologists listed three common-sense reasons we should care:
1. Environmentally responsible behavior results from direct contact with nature.
2. Children need to be exposed to the natural world in order to care about it as adults.
3. As today’s adult role models spend less time in nature, this generation of children is likely to follow suit.

Whether you take advantage of the “fee-free” weekend this month, I hope you visit a national park, a state or local park, or simply go for a walk in the woods — and take a child with you.

Learn more
To find a participating park or to learn more about fee-free weekends, visit the National Park Service

“Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

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