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Family Matters Blog: National Parks Make Great Family Getaways

By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 16, 2012 – Ask people what their all-time favorite family vacation has been and chances are good national parks will be in most of the answers. I don’t have any science to back that up, but I have been struck by the number of people who recollect their best memories of family bonding in places like Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon.

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Family Matters blogger Lisa Daniel recently visited Great Falls National Park, Va. Here, her son, husband, and daughter makes their way across a rock bed toward the Potomac River, April 14, 2012. Photo by Lisa Daniel

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Somehow, even traveling for hours in a cramped car with cranky kids seems to vanish from the memories of those who have experienced America’s most magnificent places. From the peaks of Alaska’s Denali to the lowlands of Florida’s Everglades, the National Park Service’s 397 national parks and many thousands of historical and archaeological sites and wetlands were each brought into the federal system because they are the best of the best – those places deemed worthy of protecting for everyone to see.

That’s exactly what Interior Secretary Ken Salazar had in mind when he announced yesterday that the $80 annual pass for all the national parks and public lands will be waived for active-duty military members and their dependents, starting May 19, Armed Forces Day.

Salazar said he hopes military members and their families will visit the parks and public lands for fun, rest and relaxation, family bonding, and to experience those places America holds dear. As the Interior secretary said, these are “the very places they not only defend, but that they own.”

The World War II generation had a close connection to the parks, National Park Service Director John Jarvis said, because some military training was done there – such as when the 10th Mountain Division trained on Mount Ranier in Washington – and some places were reserved for a time only for returning service members and their families. Also, the federal government then made a push to improve the parks and add infrastructure for the returning warriors.

“If you talk to folks of that generation, they came back, had kids, got in the station wagon, and did the national park tours,” Jarvis said.

Officials hope today’s generation of troops and families make the same connections. And with national parks – 84 million acres of land and 4.5 million acres of oceans, lakes and reservoirs — in every state except Delaware, many are just a day trip, or less, away.

So, why wait? Play hooky on your Saturday chores, let the kids miss soccer practice, pry the electronics out of their hands, and hop in the SUV. Those mountain trails, battlefields, nature preserves and historic homes are just around the corner.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageGreat Falls National Park, Va., is one of 327 parks in the National Park Service system. April 14, 2012. Photo by Lisa Daniel  
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