Poor Delaware. It’s the only U.S. state without a national park, which makes it sort of ironic that seven-time Delaware senator turned Vice President Joe Biden was championing restoration of the national parks during visits to the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone last month. And that fun fact brings to mind that even though summer’s more than half over, there’s still time for you and your family to visit a national park – and to champion one, too.
Spend a minute with this map and you’ll not only discover national parks that you never knew existed but you’ll also find that one or more of them are closer to home than you realized: There are 392 national park areas, including battlefields, monuments, seashores, lakeshores, rivers, trails, and other historical, military, and recreation sites.
Your national park experience “doesn’t always have to be a 10-hour drive to Yellowstone,” says Patricia Schultz, author of 1,000 Places to See Before You Die. “It can be as easy as a visit to your closest national historic site – the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the battlefields at Gettysburg or Antietam, the Missions in San Antonio - you name it,” adds Schultz, who has partnered with granola bar maker Nature Valley to form the National Parks Project, a program aimed at raising upwards of $600,000 for the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA).
Once you zero in on a park to visit, don’t necessarily write off getting an $80 national park pass, especially if you travel with a large brood. Single park admission fees can hover in the $20-per-person range, and the pass grants park admission to the pass holder plus up to three other adults in a non-commercial vehicle, as well as free admission to kids under 16.
Even without the pass, you’ll find bargains. Schultz notes that “some parks charge by the carload so ultimately entrance for a family into a national park, like the Grand Canyon, could cost less than taking the kids to the movies. And some parks, like the Smoky Mountains…have no admission fee at all.” In fact, on August 14 and 15 all parks that normally do charge admission will waive entrance fees (other fees, such as campsite reservations and tours, still apply).
Championing a park is also easier than you might think. A National Parks Project sweepstakes allows you to enter to win one of three Grand Canyon trips. And you’ll raise a dime for the NPCA every time you play a rather addictive game you’ll find at the sweepstakes site.
You can help in other ways, too. Even if you’ve planned a short trip, several parks need volunteers. “Many parks offer a variety of ‘drop-in’ volunteer opportunities, like helping to protect and restore endangered plant and wildlife habitats,” suggests Nature Valley marketing manager Martin Abrams.
As for Delaware, there is technically a national historic trail that runs through the state. But since Biden was pushing for Delaware to get its own park while he was senator, I predict we’ll be hearing a lot more on the subject in the near future.