Since 1985, July has been national park and recreation month. For the month of July, the National Recreation and Park Association has a toolkit that includes a photo contest and multiple ways to share your love of the parks. Americans love their parks and for good reason; parks showcase the very best natural, cultural, and historic resources in the nation and within each state. Wallace Stegner, famed historian and Pulitzer Prize winner, wrote that the national parks are “the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American…”
In particular, parks are loved and used by senior citizens. In a recent NY Times article, Bret Meldrum a scientist with the National Park Service said, “We are actually seeing quite a lot of boomers in their retirement interested in visiting parks to participate in traditional and non-traditional activities.” Parks are good for people as they age, because most parks offer substantial access to the mobility impaired. Many of the key attractions at parks are accessible either by vehicle or handicap-accessible walkways. Also, parks often offer the chance to see and enjoy things that many older Americans may not have yet experienced in their lifetime, for example, experience the Grand Canyon, see wildlife in its natural habitat, bird-watching, and more!
One reason for the popularity of parks among seniors is that they offer substantial and fun opportunities for improving physical and mental health. The strong relationship between parks, outdoor recreation, and health has been clearly demonstrated by a wealth of research. In 2011, National Park Service Director John Jarvis initiated a movement called Healthy Parks – Healthy People. The intent of the movement is to consider how the National Parks can play a more influential role in improving health among U.S. citizens.
For potential trip ideas for older visitors, here are a few national parks to try:
- Hot Springs National Park has natural thermal waters that visitors can comfortably soak in to restore themselves in either a warm-pool or private bath setting.
- At Acadia National Park, both roads and easy paved paths allow visitors to see the earliest sunrise in the nation.
- Grand Canyon National Park has easy paved paths that lead to frequent scenic overlooks around the rim of the mile-deep iconic canyon.
- The Blue Ridge Parkway is famous for offering scenic drives in a pastoral, mountain setting. Stop at Mabry Mill to see a place that has graced many calendars and historic buildings that demonstrate mountain life. Also, the Blue Ridge Music Center provides an interesting place to experience and learn about mountain music.
If you can’t visit one of these, don’t worry. With over 400 national park sites there is likely one very near you. You can find park locations at www.NPS.gov. A $10 Senior Pass is available to citizens 62 and over. It provides lifetime access to national parks and most other national forests, wildlife areas, and recreation sites. Also, don’t forget that state and local parks offer some similarly spectacular opportunities to get outside and improve health. These can be found by searching for state parks at www.AmericasStateParks.org or by searching the website of your local park or recreation agency.
There are many reasons for older Americans to visit their parks, and July is a good time to give it a try. I know you will enjoy your visit!
Questions for Dr. Jeffrey Hallo can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.