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Out And About The Parks: A Potpourri Of Tidbits, From A New "National Park" To Exploring The High Sierra


Legislation awaiting President Obama's signature will rename Pinnacles National Monument in California to Pinnacles National Park. NPS photo.

A look at some newsworthy tidbits from around the National Park System.

And Then There Were 59

Proving what you're called is important, heading to President Obama's desk is H.R. 3641, which, if signed, will turn Pinnacles National Monument into Pinnacles National Park. For those who track such things, that means there will be 59, not 58 "national parks" in the National Park System if the president affixes his signature to the measure.

While the legislation, sponsored by Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., notes the unique geology and vegetation that can be found within the monument, it also points out the "economic and tourism potential"... the new name will spur.

This no doubt will cause a frenzy among supporters of similar name changes for Golden Gate National Recreation Area in California, Cedar Breaks National Monument in Utah, and Colorado National Monument in Colorado.

It also will require the Park Service to order new stationery, maps, and highway signs, and require Eastern National to come up with a new Passport® To Your National Parks cancellation stamp.

Fee-Free Days Waning This Year

Letting the public into the National Park System for free can be costly to the National Park Service. So costly, in fact, that the agency has scaled back the number of fee-free days in 2013 to 11 days, down by almost a full week from 2012.

Park Service spokesman David Barna told the New York Times that each fee-free day costs the agency between $700,000 and $1 million in lost revenues.

“It’s not a good time for us to be turning down revenue, but it’s great marketing for concessionaires,” Mr. Barna said, “so we tried to strike a balance.”

Which days will be free for park entry in 2013? Here's the list:

* January 21, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

* April 22-26, National Park Week

* August 25, National Park Service Birthday

* September 28, National Public Lands Day

* November 9-11, Veterans Day weekend

Which days are missing? National Get Outdoors Day, which fell on June 9 last year; a few days from either end of National Park Week have been lopped off; and Martin Luther King, Jr., Day features just one fee-free day this year, down from three a year ago.

Just the same, 265 of the 398 national parks never charge an entrance fee. And if you pick up the $80 America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass, you can get into as many parks as many times as you want throughout the year.

Check Out The Majestic Mountains Loop

When you look at the clustering of some national parks -- Yellowstone and Grand Teton, for instance, Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon, or Olympic and Mount Rainier -- you would be remiss if you didn't consider visiting all in a specific cluster in one trip.

To help you figure out a plan of attack for Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon, a new website has popped up with suggestions. The Majestic Mountains Loop site offers "3 parks in 3 days."

"Try the Loop in 3 days or take your time and discover more area treasures. You can follow this sample itinerary, reverse the order, or make up your own…possibilities are endless!" the site tells us.

Created by Visit Visalia, Fly Fresno, and Yosemite This Year, the site lays out daily itineraries for the three parks. At the same time, the site also points to sidetrips just outside the parks, such as the Historic Seven Sycamores Ranch near Sequoia and the Madera Wine Trail near Yosemite.


I am a huge sucker for the "National Park" designation. I live in England and when I'm on vacation in the US I only get a few days to travel, so I tend to skip something called a national monument or even a state park, because they don't really call to me as a foreigner. "National Park" seems to draw me in, because I understand what a national park is supposed to represent and how important it is supposed to be.

I was going to be driving down route 101 in March as I headed to the Channel Islands National Park, so I think I'll definitely stop in Pinnacles and check it out!

Dstaniforth -- your idea that there is somehow a big difference between a national park and a national monument is really not correct. We have a huge variety of different classifications of park areas -- all perhaps dependent upon what kind of political mood Congress happened to be in when they were designated.

There is a great saying we all need to remember: "What is the difference between a national park and a national monument? It's one word and one word only."

If you skip visiting an area simply because it does not bear the word "park" in its name, you may well be missing one of the great adventures of your life.

The elevation of Pinnacles would seem to be pretty historic. By my count, we haven't gone this long without the establishment of a new national park since the 1947-1956 period between the Everglades and Virgin Islands. That said, is Pinnacles worthy of the designation? Or does it water down the "park" status?

Water down? In what way?

Pinnacles is a pretty cool area, and deserves the promotion to national park just as much as some other recently-elevated sites.

However, I am a little saddened that we are gradually losing many of the great nature national monuments that were around when I was younger. In my life, we've seen Death Valley, Joshua Tree, Channel Islands, Katmai, Glacier Bay, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Great Sand Dunes, Saguaro, Congaree Swamp, and Biscayne (and maybe a couple others that escape my mind) make this transition, leaving few of the old sizable national monuments dedicated mostly to preserving natural features. What's left: Craters of the Moon, Dinosaur, Colorado, Cedar Breaks, Oregon Caves (if it expands), maybe a couple others?

There are a few reasons why this is happening. Some new "national monuments" have been created, but mostly under the jurisdictions of other federal land agencies. The only major NPS additions under the monument designation I can think of right now are Aniakchak and Cape Krusenstern, plus "sort of" Parashant.

Also, many new areas have been getting different designations, like National Preserve, Reserve, etc. And therein might lie the heart of the problem. The term "national monument" has always been a pretty broadly-applied designation, as it includes units whose features can be natural, historic, or archaeological. Hence, there's been a trend to more resource-specific designations, and that spells bad news for the natural monuments (and some historic monuments, too).

And finally, there's the "branding" issue that politicians look at and you others have mentioned. National Parks do have more tourist pull than something called "monument" will have, so that term will just be more desirable. It's probably inevitable that we'll see the other natural monuments eventually become parks.


If I recall correctly, the National Park Service opposed the change in designation because Pinnacles doesn't meet its specific criteria for "park" status. The Traveler did a story on it: /2009/11/national-park-service-opposes-redesignation-pinnacles-national-monument-national-park4951.

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