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U.S. celebrates national parks

From cliff-dwellings to canyons, lighthouses to log cabins

April 23, 1997
Web posted at: 6:06 p.m. EDT (2206 GMT)
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(CNN) -- The United States, which has more national parks than days of the year, is dedicating seven of those days to celebrating them. Since Monday, parks nationwide have been bustling with special workshops, Scenes fromclean-up campaigns and ranger programs in honor of National Park Week.

"National Park Week is an attempt to both recognize people who have contributed to national parks and to recognize this great gift we started giving ourselves 125 years ago," said Denis Galvin, Acting Director of the National Park Service.

Yellowstone became the first jewel in the national treasure chest in 1872. Today, the 374-park system includes the tallest mountain in North America (Mt. McKinley at the Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska), the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere (Death Valley in California and Nevada), and the longest cave system in the world (Mammoth Park in Kentucky). Volcanoes, hot springs, grand marble memorials and the handwritten notes of Thomas Edison are among other gems in the collection.

Visitors swarm to national parks

After years of steadily increasing, visitation to national parks boomed. Since the 1950s, the number of visits to the parks has jumped 500 percent. Officials recorded more than 260 million visits last year.

Despite the increase, the National Park Service says there are only a handful of places where overcrowding is a serious problem.

"To be sure, there are national parks that are crowded on certain days," said Galvin, "but in virtually all national parks on virtually most days, people will find a pleasurable experience without crowding."

Park entrance fees going up

The number of visitors to national parks isn't the only thing going up. Entrance fees are, too. Generally, they have doubled, according to Galvin. In most parks, he said, that means the entrance fee per car has risen from $5 to $10. At three parks -- Yosemite, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon -- fees have gone up to $20.

"The most important thing to say about that increase in fees is that the parks that collect the fees get to keep 80 percent of the increased fees," said Galvin, "so we estimate that will be a $40 million increase in revenue to those parks next year and $140 million over the next three years."

Galvin says visitors don't seem to mind the increase.

"In Yellowstone, we've tripled the entrance fees for snowmobiles starting January 1 ... and it has been very positive. I was out at Rocky Mountain National Park just a couple of weeks ago, and again, going from $5 to $10, we've had no visitor complaints," he said.

CNN correspondent Stephanie Oswald contributed to this report.

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