DENVER — National parks across the country are waiving entrance fees Sunday to honor the 103rd birthday of the National Park Service.
There's a national park in every state, and while not every park charges admission, the fee-free days are designed to encourage visitors to see some of the country's highest-profile parks, from Arizona's Grand Canyon to California's Yosemite and Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park. President Woodrow Wilson signed the National Park Service Act on Aug. 25, 1916.
“The entrance fee-free days hosted by the National Park Service are special opportunities to invite visitors, volunteers and veterans to celebrate some important moments for our parks and opportunities for service in those parks,” National Park Service Deputy Director P. Daniel Smith said in announcing the free admission.
The National Park Service has 418 sites across the country, including Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina, Zion National Park in Utah and Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.
The park service will have two more fee-free days this year: Saturday, Sept. 28, in honor of National Public Lands Day, and Monday, Nov. 11, in honor of Veterans Day.
National parks are an important economic driver for the country, with more than 318 million visitors in 2018. Those visitors spent $18.2 billion, which supported 306,000 jobs across the country and had a $35.8 billion overall impact on the U.S. economy, according to the park service.
The park service in 2016 celebrated its 100th anniversary with a wide variety of programs and special events, helping drive visitation to an all-time high of nearly 331 million.
The park service has struggled in the past several decades to manage its growing visitor numbers without significant budget increases, when adjusted for inflation. Those budget challenges have forced park managers to defer billions of dollars in maintenance, and caused a drop in the number of park rangers on patrol.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Free admission to national parks on Sunday for annual celebration