National parks spruce up facilities, add attractions

By Jay Clarke

McClatchy Newspapers


It'll cost you a little bit more this year to visit some of our national parks, but you'll also get a little more for your money - new visitor centers, new exhibits, museums and other facilities.

No blockbuster sites are being introduced this year, but the National Park Service is sprucing up some preserves and expanding visitor access to others.

In Little Rock, Ark., a new visitor center will open at the Central High School National Historic Site in September. The opening will mark the 50th anniversary of the day in 1957 when nine black students tried to register at the school, but were met with such stiff resistance from segregationists that President Dwight D. Eisenhower had to call in federal troops to enforce the court's orders. The new center will replace the funky old one, which was housed, oddly, in a former Mobil service station across the street.

In the eastern part of the country, a new Destination Center will open this fall on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the nation's most visited national park. Located a mile from the park service's Folk Arts Center in Asheville, the center will feature an unique exhibit called Eye World, a sliding computer that points out interesting places as it passes over a map of the parkway.

Out west, Grand Teton National Park will unveil a new Discovery and Visitor Center in mid-August that will provide ``stunning views of the Tetons through floor-to-ceiling picture windows,'' said the park service's Gerry Gaumer. He predicted the center will become a must-see destination in itself.

Also opening at Grand Teton is the one-time ranch and private retreat of Laurence S. Rockefeller. Visitors to the 1,106-acre preserve will have hiking trails to explore the forests, streams and Phelps Lake.

Visitors will be able to drive right up to a missile silo for the first time this summer. On weekday mornings, the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site in South Dakota will allow visitors to see a training missile on display. No reservations necessary. Twice-daily regular tours will take visitors into the underground launch control center as well, but are extremely limited, and reservations well ahead of time are necessary.

A new free shuttle system starts July 1 at Glacier National Park's Going-to-the-Sun Road. Visitors will be able to get on and off at various stops, avoiding traffic and parking problems. In addition to exhibits, Glacier's new Transit Center will have interactive kiosks providing e-hikes and e-tours for self-planners.

Only one new park is coming on line this year, the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site in late April, but there's little to see there, not even a visitor center. The site is where federal troops raided an Indian encampment in 1864, killing at least 150, most of them women and children. Visitors will be taken to a spot overlooking the creek, which is about 200 miles southeast of Denver.

Meanwhile, fees will be increased at only 13 parks out of the 390 in the system; the increase will be no more than $5 per person and $5 per carload, the NPS says.

The park service, however, is raising the price of its annual pass from $65 to $80. It provides entry to land managed by five agencies: the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Reclamation. Golden Age and Access passes will continue to be honored for the passholder's lifetime. New interagency versions of those passes will have the same cost, $10 for Golden Age, free for Access.

Lastly, though it's outside the national park, a new attraction promises to give visitors perhaps the most breathtaking view ever of the Grand Canyon. Skywalk, a glass bridge cantilevered out over the canyon, was scheduled to open March 28. It's part of the Hualapai Indian Reservation tourist complex at the western rim of the Grand Canyon, about three hours from Las Vegas. Information: 877-716-9378,

Other new park developments this year:

_Boston National Historical Park, Massachusetts: The park's new Bunker Hill Museum opens June 14. Bunker Hill Monument reopens April 2 after an 11-month rehab.

_Lincoln Home Nat- ional Historic Site, Illinois: New exhibits include a recreated log cabin float, a teamster's wagon, a photographer's camera and a model of 1860 Springfield.

_Homestead National Monument, Nebraska: The grand opening of a new heritage center will coincide with the 145th anniversary of homesteading on May 18.

Information: National Park Service, or 202-208-4747.


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