The days are getting longer; the wildflowers are blooming; and the snow is melting out of the high country. In other words, it’s prime time for the country’s National Park System. If you’re planning a visit this summer, be prepared for new fees, new facilities and a few ongoing problems.
This year, 11 park sites will see higher entrance fees, part of a multi-year plan to raise such fees at approximately one-third of the system’s 391 units. Among the parks most recently affected: Black Canyon of the Gunnison (from $8 to $15 per vehicle); Mesa Verde (from $10 to $15); and Big Bend, Bryce Canyon and Zion (all from $20 to $25). Passes for private vehicles are valid for seven days.
The Park Service has also eliminated its $50 annual pass in favor of a new one with an expanded goal, a higher price and an exceedingly ungainly name. For $80, the annual America the Beautiful – National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass provides access to lands managed by five government agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management.
New and improved
Meanwhile several parks will unveil new facilities or improved services this summer:
Boston National Historical Park: After a year-long closure and $3.7 million in renovations, the Bunker Hill Monument in Boston’s historic Charlestown neighborhood reopened in early April. On June 14 — three days before the 232nd anniversary of the original battle — the ribbon will be cut on a new museum on adjacent Monument Square. Highlights will include exhibits on the Charlestown community and the “patriots of color” who participated in the fight.
Grand Canyon National Park: For a new view of the canyon’s ancient geology, check out the recently renovated Yavapai Observation Station on the park’s South Rim. Built in 1928, the historic stone structure was originally designed “to make the out-of-doors intelligible” and will continue to do so through new artworks, photographs and high-tech geological exhibits.
Sequoia National Park: First proposed 20 years ago, a free shuttle service began operating along two routes in Sequoia National Park over the Memorial Day weekend. The “green” route follows the Generals Highway, the main road through the park, between the Giant Forest Museum and Wuksachi Village; the “gray” route travels from the museum to Moro Rock and Crescent Meadow. Also new, a commercial shuttle will run between Visalia and the park this summer. Round-trip fares are $10.
Denali National Park: This summer, the park will inaugurate the “Kantishna Experience,” a new guided tour that combines a scenic bus ride to the end of the park road at Kantishna with interpretive narration by a NPS ranger. The 12-hour round-trip tour includes lunch and a stop at the historic cabin of the late Fannie Quigley, a notorious local resident. The service runs June 8–August 31; cost is $129 per person.
Glacier National Park: In July, the park will inaugurate free shuttle service on Going-to-the-Sun Road. Running every 15–30 minutes, the bio-diesel shuttles will run between the Apgar Transit Center near West Glacier and the St. Mary Visitor Center on the park’s eastern border. Another shuttle will travel a loop around the Apgar Village area.
Grand Teton National Park: Currently being built near park headquarters, the Grand Teton Discovery and Visitor Center is expected to open on August 11. Floor-to-ceiling windows will highlight views of the Teton Range while interactive exhibits will celebrate the park’s unique natural resources and rich human history. A second welcome center is expected to open in early September on a 1,106-acre ranch donated to the park by the late Laurance S. Rockefeller.
Under construction, closed for repairs
While the above parks are showing off new facilities or services, others are simply trying to maintain what they have. From weather-related damage to road-construction closures, here are some of the potential hazards this summer:
Olympic National Park: Like Mt. Rainier (see below), this park suffered severe damage during last winter’s horrendous weather. The good news is that the road to the Hoh Rain Forest recently reopened after a six-month closure due to washouts. The bad news is that the Dosewallips and Upper Queets roads will probably remain closed through the summer.
Rainier National Park: Another good news, bad news situation. After six months, the road to Paradise, the park’s most popular destination, reopened in early May. Unfortunately, the Carbon River Road, Stevens Canyon Road and Highway 123 (between Stevens Canyon and Cayuse Pass) will remain closed until further notice.
Yellowstone National Park: On July 9, the park will close South Rim Drive to facilitate improvements at Artist Point, long known for its breathtaking views of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. The road is expected to remain closed through the fall, although visitors will still be able to view the canyon and its famous waterfalls from several overlooks on North Rim Drive. That road is set for major construction in 2008.