National Park Service Linking Good Health With Park Visits During National Parks Week

National Park Service officials are linking a healthy lifestyle with a national park visit this year for National Park Week, and point to ranger-led treks, such as this one in Olympic National Park, as a way to improve your health. Kurt Repanshek photo.

In promoting this year's National Park Week, which falls in mid-April, the National Park Service is highlighting what might seem obvious: Getting outside is good for your health.

Need some fresh air to clear your mind? How about a stroll through a garden to mellow out the stress of a busy day? Or maybe winter has packed on a few extra pounds and it’s time to hit the bike trails again.

America’s 394 national parks offer many close-to-home opportunities for outdoor recreation. A growing number of doctors even write “Park Prescriptions” to get patients outside and active. The growing connection between public lands and public health is the focus of National Park Week, April 16-24.

“National parks have always been great places to go on vacation, have fun, and learn something, but for millions of Americans national parks are also a daily part of a healthy lifestyle,” says National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis. “If you’ve never thought of your national parks that way, we’d like to invite you to come out to see how parks can help you meet your fitness goals. Getting outside and moving is the first step.”

During National Park Week, which offers free entrance to all units of the National Park System, there are a number of ways to work on a healthy lifestyle, even without working up a sweat, the Park Service notes.

"Take in a ranger talk or join a free guided tour. Or add some superlatives to your life list: the world’s tallest trees (sequoias), longest cave (Mammoth Cave), largest carnivore (Alaskan Brown Bear), or the United States’ highest peak (Mount McKinley), lowest point (Death Valley), or deepest lake (Crater Lake)," the agency said in announcing the focus on good health.

Along with visiting parks, you also have the chance to help out rangers, as on Saturday, April 16, many parks will be looking for volunteers to help with projects and on Saturday April 23, kids will be the special guests for the 5th annual Junior Ranger Day.

You can find out details on these programs at this site.

Additional fee-free days scheduled for 2011 are June 21 (the first day of summer), September 21 (National Public Lands Day), and November 11-13 (Veterans Day Weekend).

If that first step toward fitness isn’t in a national park, it just might be in a place that the National Park Service helped to create. Through the Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance (RTCA) program, Land and Water Conservation Fund grants, and other programs, the National Park Service works with states and communities to create and expand local recreation opportunities outside of national parks. Learn more at www.nps.gov/communities .