The United States is rich in natural, cultural and historical resources, and Americans have made preserving those in perpetuity a priority. The best of these are enshrined in the National Park Service's collection of sites that include national parks, recreation areas, historical sites and monuments. Together there are nearly 400 such designations across the country, and at 147 locations, visitors are asked for an entrance fee. For three weekends this summer, though, that fee will be waived. Visitors should take advantage of the opportunity.
On June 20-21 (Father's Day weekend), and again July 18-19 and Aug. 15-16, the $10-$25 normally collected at park locations that require entrance fees will be waived to draw more people to the various sites Americans have deemed worth protecting - and showcasing - as national treasures. Mesa Verde National Park is among these revered resources, and the free entrance, while not necessarily likely to draw hordes of additional tourists to the region, will provide those here - as well as local residents who have not visited the park recently - added incentive to explore the ancestral Puebloan site.
While it is true, as John Cohen of the Durango Area Tourism Office said, that park entrance fees are among the lowest-price items tourists will pay for when visiting this or any area, providing a free holiday may be just enough of a draw to bring a few more families to a park where they will be introduced to a new experience that connects them to important natural, cultural or historic heritage. That is worth much more than the $10-$25 it normally costs to enter the parks, and will pay even greater dividends, experience-wise.
Offering the fee waiver has the primary benefit of drawing attention to the country's national park system - something the federal government does not appear to hold as a high priority, either in marketing efforts or budgeting decisions. Instead, local tourism campaigns tend to do their respective national parks' heavy lifting, marketing-wise, and the National Park Service's announcement is sure to help those efforts in addition to adding a national element. Drawing more visitors - whether they come from around the corner or around the globe - can only help these resources by boosting awareness of and appreciation for the resources they contain.
On its free days, Mesa Verde will provide visitors an opportunity to experience the rich cultural, historic and natural resources that the park comprises, and by saving the $10-$15 normally charged per vehicle, families can spend money on the guided tours of the park's larger ruins, take home a souvenir or have a meal steeped in the region's heritage at the Metate Room Restaurant.
There is much to take in at Mesa Verde, and by offering free entrance over two consecutive days, the National Park Service alleviates the pressure of trying to see the entire park in one day. That is particularly helpful at Mesa Verde, where a 20-mile trip to the park's center from U.S. Highway 160 makes any trip there a full day.
The National Park Service has offered a compelling incentive to venture into one - or many - of the vast collection of parks, historic sites, preserves and recreation areas. Take the offer and enjoy.