Conversations: Jon Jarvis

Questions for Jon Jarvis, director of the National Park Service

Jon Jarvis, director of the National Park Service, joined in 1976.
Jon Jarvis, director of the National Park Service, joined in 1976. (National Park Service)
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Monday, April 19, 2010

The National Park Service celebrates National Park Week this week by waiving entrance fees at the nation's 392 national parks. National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis discusses the program, the new law allowing guns in parks and his 34-year career with the agency.

QWhy are parks free this week?

It's an invitation to the American public to come visit their national parks. . . . It's a great celebration and opportunity to reacquaint with our parks.

The week of festivities is also tied to the 40th anniversary of Earth Day?

Earth Day is Thursday, April 22. There are over 300 [events] across the country. We have some events right here in D.C. around the Washington Monument. We have about 600 kids coming in to participate in a range of activities.

How much will the fee waiver cost the Park Service in lost revenue?

A little less than $1 million a day, so about $9 million total.

Is it worth the cost?

Absolutely. Our fee program is a great program, because we use it specifically to improve facilities for the visitors. . . . But occasionally, it's important to waive this fee. We'll do it again in August. The fee program is only a supplement to the regular appropriations we get from Congress to operate the National Park system.

How are overall visits to the parks going this year?

It's up. We got a bump last year, about 4 percent, or 287 million last year. We'll probably hit 290 million this year.

I think it's always hard to exactly pin down why visitation goes up or down. A lot of it is tied to the economy and you can probably give some credit to the Ken Burns series ["The National Parks: America's Best Idea" on PBS] in drawing some attention to the National Park system. You can give some credit to the economy and folks who couldn't afford to go to Europe, so they're reengaging with great places here in the United States.

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