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ParkRx Day and Free Fee Day Start National Park Week in 2021

Each year in April we celebrate National Park Week, which usually starts with a fee free day. This year, in 2021, the Free Fee Day on Saturday, April 17, coincides with ParkRx Day, the International Park Wellness Day.

During Free Fee Day you can visit every National Park in the US without paying the entrance fee, no matter how low or high this fee is. I suspect National Parks will be busy on this day, especially considering that last year most National Parks were closed during this time. Although many of them still offered virtual visits.

This year, as we are emerging from the long quarantine, on the first day of the National Park Week we also celebrate the importance of the parks for our health. The International Park Wellness Day, called also ParkRx Day or Park Prescription Day, focuses on bringing awareness to the connection between our health and spending time in nature. ParkRx Day promotes the growing movement of healthcare providers prescribing time in nature as medicine.

As National Park Pass holders, on the Free Fee Day we usually avoid the National Parks, because they tend to get overcrowded. Sometimes though, we visit a lesser-known, or out-of-the-way park few people know about or one that is hard to get to. A few years ago we celebrated this day in Hovenweep, where we saw visitors for the first time ever, though the site never got crowded. Still, we try not to add to the crowds and stay away from the parks this day, but we still spend time outdoors.

And that’s what ParkRx is all about. It doesn’t matter which park you go to, or even if it is a National Park, as long as you are outdoors. Time spent in nature improves our overall health and general well-being.

On the River Loop Trail by the North Cascades Visitor Center
Hiking in the forest in the North Cascades National Park: on the River Loop Trail by the Visitor Center

Connect with Nature not only on ParkRx Day, but as Often as Possible

This day is meant to bring awareness of the importance of spending time in nature, connecting with the natural environment surrounding us. Lately, more and more physicians prescribe time in nature. I think we all know this instinctively, we shouldn’t need doctors to tell us. But in the past few decades, with most people living in large cities, working on computers, spending most of our times in front of some type of screen, we forget how important it is to spend time outdoors.

Health Benefits of Spending Time in Nature

As our doctors remind us, spending time in nature, contact with nature improves our physical and mental health. Though I didn’t need a doctor to tell me that connecting with nature is sometimes the only way we can heal after a trauma; it was the only way I could deal with grief.

On a more fun level, being outdoors, in nature, makes exercise fun. Walking, bicycling, or running, when done outdoors, away from cities, on park trails, or in the wilderness, not only boosts our mood, and helps to keep us in shape, but also boosts our immune system, and improves our general health.

Health professionals recommend spending at least two hours a week in nature for good health and well-being. Two hours out of a whole week is not much; it’s slightly more than 15 minutes a day. You can spend that time in a park nearby, or even in your own backyard, though we all have National Parks within driving distance that might make a great weekend outing.

Talking about health benefits more specifically, it’s a proven fact that spending time in nature and connecting with nature on any level lowers stress levels and high blood pressure. It is also linked with lowering depression and anxiety. People exercise longer and more regularly in nature, as opposed to a gym. Besides the obvious health reasons of getting in shape, this also leads to healthier eating habits.

Hiking in Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
Spending time in a Ponderosa Pine forest in Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument

National Parks Promote Spending Time in Nature

The National Park System actively promotes spending time in nature, and educating visitors about the benefits of doing so. Especially during National Park Week, but also all year long, it offers easy access to National Parks, opportunities for healthy outdoor activities.

All National Parks help us get exercise by providing plenty of trails for all levels. No matter what park you visit, you’ll always find trails for all ages, and levels. You’ll find nature trails where even toddlers can walk and learn about their surroundings, accessible trails for older visitors or those with impaired mobility, long and strenuous trails for those who need a challenge, and everything in between. You also have opportunities for bicycling, horseback riding, and other outdoor activities in most parks, even if not all.

When it comes to lodging, and dining, the National Parks also pay attention to sustainability, since it affects ur overall health. The historic lodges, cabins, and other hotels within the premises of any National Park all follow sustainable practices, from using refillable shampoo and shower gel containers in the bathrooms, to cleaning with environmentally-friendly products, only cleaning sheets and towels between guests or as requested, to using no television sets in the rooms. The dining rooms in the parks use sustainably produced, local ingredients for their meals.

The busier parks, like the Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks, among many others, offer free shuttles and bicycle rentals within the park. Many of them keep cars out of busy areas altogether, to reduce pollution that affects our health.

Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon National Park, where Free shuttles take visitors from viewpoint to viewpoint.

ParkRx Day Promotes the Healthy Parks Healthy People Program

The practice of Park Prescriptions that ParkRx Day is bringing into focus promotes the Healthy Parks Healthy People idea, and program. A global movement, the Healthy Parks Healthy People brings awareness to the importance of parks. They don’t only focus on National Parks, but also on local community parks, city parks, and public lands in nature play an important role in the well-being and health of people everywhere.

In the US, the movement is based in the National Parks System that comprises more than 400 national parks. During National Park Week, its existence and importance is brought into focus, giving us the opportunity to understand the importance of nature for our health and well-being, and offering possibilities to enjoy the outdoors. The best opportunity to visit a National Park is the Free Fee Day, the first day of the National Park Week, when you don’t have to pay a fee to visit any of these parks. The better-known parks will get crowded on this day, but you can always find a lesser-known National Park you can spend time in, sharing it with only a handful of other visitors.

ParkRx Day is also the first day, the Free Fee Day of National Park Week

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