ST. GEORGE — National Park Week will begin Saturday, and all visitors to national parks that day will be admitted free of charge. The festivities will continue through April 25, with daily themes honoring volunteers and military service members in addition to days focused on park history and conservation.
Individuals and families can participate in the events in-person or virtually, with activities and information available through the National Park Service website. The events and activities extend beyond national parks, including memorials, national monuments and other historical landmarks overseen by the federal government. Each daily theme is detailed at the end of this article.
Parks in Southern Utah, including Zion and Bryce Canyon, will be participating in the national celebration. Situated in the desert landscapes of the Southwest, both Zion and Bryce Canyon boast world-famous vistas that attract millions of visitors each year. In 2020, Zion was the third most visited national park, hosting 3.6 million travelers last year.
For Peter Densmore, visual information specialist at Bryce Canyon National Park, the anticipated increase in visitation for National Park Week – and in general, as temperatures continue to warm up – means keeping visitors safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There is still a federal mask mandate in effect,” Densmore said. “This includes places like our visitor center, outdoor plaza and the park shuttle. We’re definitely still not at what we call normal operations but somewhere between that and where we were last year.”
Peak visitation is just around the corner, with summer vacations attracting the largest crowds, Densmore said. Still, the experience for every visitor can be unique, he said.
“I love the impression that it makes upon people whether they’re coming for the first time or the tenth time,” Densmore said. “There’s just something about this land that is so unusual and beautiful in this way that I think it really just cracks people open. We call it the ‘Bryce moment.’ That’s what this park was established to protect.”
Amanda Rowland, public information officer for Zion National Park, said that rangers and staff at Zion are looking forward to celebrating National Park Week. She encouraged visitors to remember the principles of recreating responsibly and “Leave No Trace.”
Zion National Park was established in 1919, though evidence suggests that human habitation of the area goes back as far as 8,000 years. Carved by the slow erosion of the Virgin River, Zion is known for its waterways as much as it is known for the red and white sandstone valleys that shelter its greenery.
Best known for its spire-shaped rock formations, Bryce Canyon National Park was designated as a national park in 1928 and offers visitors the opportunity to see rare species of plants and animals within the park. Densmore said one of his personal favorite attractions is the seasonal diffusion of oils from the Ponderosa pine that makes the air smell faintly of butterscotch and vanilla.
For visitors heading to either of the local parks or other national recreation areas, Densmore encouraged all to check their respective websites for updated guidelines on COVID-19 precautions and other tips for making the experience more enjoyable.
According to a press release from the National Park Service, theme days are scheduled as follows:
Saturday, April 17: Free Admission and ParkRx Day
- Spending time in parks and nature benefits overall physical and mental health and wellness. In honor of the park service’s century-long collaboration with the Office of Public Health, National Park Week begins with ParkRx Day! Enjoy a free admission visit to recreate responsibly in a national park near you.
Sunday, April 18: VIP (Volunteers in Parks) Sunday
- With over 400 national park sites to manage, park service volunteers play a critical part in helping parks thrive. From clearing trails and providing directions to assisting visitors through museum collections, volunteers help all of us enjoy national parks.
Monday, April 19: Military Monday
- National parks provide military members, past and present, with places for reflection and recreation where they can experience the comradery, solace and healing that nature offers. In gratitude for their service, free annual passes are available for all those who served in the U.S. Armed Forces. Learn more at nps.gov/subjects/military.
Tuesday, April 20: Transformation Tuesday
- How have parks changed through the years? How will they change in the future? Some transformations in national parks have occurred naturally while others are the result of conservation and restoration projects. From restoring buildings to their historical appearance, to rehabilitating ecosystems, to the maturation of wildlife, to incorporating emerging technology, learn how and why parks and their features have transformed through the years.
Wednesday, April 21: Wayback Wednesday
- Take a look at some of your favorite parks then and now. How has the view changed? Who else has stood in the same spot in the past? Learn about the living landscapes, historical battlefields, ancient ancestral structures, homes of prominent people, and buildings that are tangible reminders of the ever-evolving U.S. story.
Thursday, April 22: Earth Day
- A global celebration encouraging all people to learn more about and care for the planet, Earth Day is the perfect time to reflect on the natural wonders that the park service helps to protect.
Friday, April 23: Friendship Friday
- Caring for our parks is a big job. Park partners have played an important role since the National Park Service was founded in 1916, and this tradition of generous, committed support continues today with individuals, groups and communities helping preserve and enhance the national park experience.
Saturday, April 24: Junior Ranger Day
- The National Park Service Junior Ranger program provides fun and engaging ways for young people to connect with our country’s heritage and landscapes, both virtually and in-person.
Sunday, April 25: BARK Ranger Day
- National parks are fun to share with those we love – including those of the fluffy variety! BARK Ranger principles ensure a pet’s visit to a park is fun and safe.
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