On Sunday, Aug. 25, the National Park Service will observe its 97th birthday. In honor of this special anniversary, the NPS is offering a ‘fee-free day’ to members of the public who visit Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier, Zion, or any of the other 58 established national park areas. According to the official NPS website, the waiver covers entrance fees, commercial tour fees, and transportation entrance costs; other costs, such as campground fees concessions, will not be covered.
President Teddy Roosevelt gets the lion’s share of the credit for creating the NPS; in addition establishing the first five national parks and four national monuments his presidency (1901-09), he also signed the Antiquities Act that paved the way for nationwide land and landmark conservation. But he had plenty of help from the environmentalist community, which at the time was in its relative infancy. Conservationist Stephen Mather, civic leader J. Horace McFarland, and journalist Robert Yard Sterling were just a few of the notable figures whose efforts led to the creation of the NPS.
On Aug. 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson (no sloucher himself when it came to conservation issues) signed the National Park Service Organic Act, which placed protection and and administration of established parks under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Interior. Mather was appointed as the first NPS director; per legislative stipulations, he earned a handsome annual salary of $4,500 (which had roughly the same buying power in 1916 that $100,000 has today). Mather served his post with distinction for 12 years. Fifteen men and two women have followed in his footsteps; the current director, Jon Jarvis, has held the position since 2009.
If you dig the idea of a fee-free day, then you should check out the annual national park passes that are currently available to the public. The standard America the Beautiful pass allows access into any national park that normally charges an entrance fee; the pass is currently priced at $80, but since most entrance fees fall between $10 and $25, it’s ideal for road trippers who have several parks on their itinerary. Seniors over the age of 62 can obtain the same pass for $10, while permanently disabled individuals and volunteers who perform more than 500 hours of service will receive the pass free-of-charge.
If you can’t take part in the ‘fee-free’ festivities this weekend, the NPS will also be offering entrance fee waivers on Sept. 28 (National Public Lands Day) and Nov. 9-11 (Veteran’s Day weekend).