When I first became a park ranger for the National Park Service, most of the parks around the country were free to the public. A few of the big names, like Yosemite and Yellowstone, charged nominal fees in the ballpark of $3-$5 per carload for entry. These funds were all pooled into the coffers for the National Park Service as a whole. To me, I really appreciated the fact that for the most part, our nation's parks were available and affordable to the American public, as they were meant to be.  

But all of that changed about 15 years ago when Congress decreed that parks should not only charge admission fees, but that each park could keep a portion of the fees they collected. Suddenly, national parks that were once free and accessible to the public were now charging fees in the range of $20-$25 per visit. It broke my heart as the realization sunk in that our nation's park were becoming just another playground for those who could afford the toll.

So now you can imagine my glee at the news that the National Park Service is planning three, fee-free weekends this summer to encourage cash-strapped families to visit the parks. At all of the nation's parks around the country, fees will be waived on June 20 and 21, July 18 and 19, and Aug. 15 and 16. So once again our National Park's will be available and accessible to the public — even if it is only for a few select weekends.  

Take advantage of the opportunity and plan a trip to see one (or more) of these national wonders.  You won't be disappointed!

(MNN homepage photo: Glennwilliamspdx/Flickr)

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