News of Increase in Park Visits Sparks Optimism

It could be the upside of the economic downturn: The Obama administration says visits to national parks are up nearly 4 percent this year.

The National Park Service said Monday that 127.7 million visits were made to national parks in the first six months of the year, an increase of about 4.5 million over the same period in 2008. In June alone, visits to national parks increased by more than 700,000 compared to June of last year.

"America's national parks and public lands provide affordable and accessible recreational opportunities from coast to coast," said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. "It is great to see so many Americans, including the first family, take advantage of the incredible natural, cultural and historic resources that we have here at home. Especially when times are tough, our parks and public lands refuel the spirit and help energize local economies."

President Barack Obama and his family visited Yellowstone National Park on Saturday and Grand Canyon National Park on Sunday. The visits came during the last of three summer weekends when the administration waived entrance fees at 147 national parks and monuments to spur tourism and boost local economies.

Officials credit the "free weekends" for part of the spike in park visits, but say visits were up even before the fee waivers began in June. The economic slowdown may have forced people to stay close to home for their vacations, officials said, noting that visits to parks near urban areas including Virginia's Shenandoah…
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