Outdoorsy types, as well as anybody on staff for the National Park Service, breathed a sigh of relief when last week's much-hyped government shutdown was averted in time to save National Park Week.
It will take place as planned from April 16 to 24, with waived entry fees to more than 100 parks and monuments that normally charge, as well as hundreds of activities that would have been canceled had a budget compromise not been reached. A shutdown also would have spelled economic disaster for the communities that rely on national parks to help fuel their economies; in fact, the National Parks Conservation Association estimated a potential loss of $30 million.
So why not look at a visit to one the country's 394 spectacular national parks next week as your civic duty, in addition to stoking your adventurous spirit? Here, I've picked out a few highlights from the extensive offerings.
2-for-1 Deal at Mount Rainier National Park Inn, WA: Book one night during National Park Week at this historic inn, where you can take in commanding views of Mount Rainier from chairs on the front porch, and you'll get a second night free. Rates start at $110 and include complimentary afternoon tea and scones. Book online at www.mtrainierguestservices.com.
National Junior Ranger Day, Shenandoah National Park, Va.; April 21: A great park-week option for families, this day-long offering is perfect for getting pint-sized adventurers interested in nature and real-life wilderness jobs (like wildland fire-fighting). They'll delight in hands-on interaction with rangers including the chance to try on some real ranger's gear and activities like hiking up Stony Man Mountain, the second-highest peak in the park at 4,000 feet. (Another favorite among hikers is Old Rag Mountain, pictured above, which is made of billion-year-old granite.)
NatureFest 2011, Congaree National Park, SC; April 16: This park, which ranks among the most diverse forest communities in North America with 22 different plant communities, bursts to life in the spring and this year's NatureFest features an activity for just about every outdoor interest, from canoeing to birding to discussions with climate-change experts. Bonus: All activities are free (though some require reservations).
John Muir's Birthday, Muir Woods National Monument, CA; April 21: Celebrate the birthday of this pioneering conservationist with a serene stroll through his beloved redwood forest, which encompasses what he called "the best tree-lover's monument in all the forests of the world." In addition, on the 17th, the park offers "Muir Woods After Hours," a two-mile walk through the magical old-growth forests that begins at sunset and wraps up in darkness. (Reservations required, and this one's not advisable for young-'uns under 8.)
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