Free Days: National Park Week

Volunteer, explore, and just commune with a favorite rock or tree.

AN INVITATION FROM NATURE: The wilder under-the-sky world is forever calling to us, and it doesn't even need a telephone or megaphone or a device which can send texts (though we imagine that nature would employ some amazing and occasionally offbeat emoji). The Great Outdoors only needs sunshine and moonlight and wind to get our attention and rattle our panes, the better to remind us that glowing screens and paperwork and the day-to-day can, and should, be put on hold from time to time. No other time of the year reminds us this as fervently, nor verdantly, as springtime, when crocuses are popping and petaling and doing all of the usual things that crocuses generally do. What a lovely thing, then, that National Park Week spreads out just around then, like a colorful picnic blanket over a spread of glossy grass. Yes, you guessed it, it also coincides with Earth Day, so if you want to be in a national park and be helping a national park through a volunteer effort, you can and should. But if you simply want to commune with the cliffs and tall trees and waterfalls and cacti and wind, you can do that, too, and you can do it for free over the first two days of the specially designated week. Which are...

APRIL 18 AND 19: That's a Saturday and Sunday -- National Park Week spools out after that -- and if you do make for a park, maybe possibly make for one that normally has an entrance fee. Not all of the monuments and sites and parks under the NPS system do. Heck, not even the majority do, to be honest: "Only 127 of our country's 407 national parks usually charge an entrance fee" says the NPS, so landing at one of the 127 fee-charging parks over those two fee-free days is a fine plan. What's to do in terms of ranger talks, special walks, and hugging the outdoors close to your heart? There are volunteer ideas through the National Park Foundation and a way to search parks by your chosen activities. But you don't need to go and be busy. One of the best parts of the parks is just being among the plants and animals in the crisp air and diffuse sunshine. Fee-free or not fee-free, that's a gift. Happy National Park Week, park people, and happy almost-100th-birthday, National Park Service.

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