- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 25, 2004

The National Park Service and tourism industry officials yesterday announced a campaign to reverse a decline in visitors to America’s 388 designated national sites.

Born from a new partnership signed by the Travel Industry Association of America (TIAA), the U.S. Department of Interior’s National Park Service (NPS) and the National Park Foundation, the “See America’s National Parks” campaign is scheduled to begin this spring.

“Visitation of a number of national parks has slowed,” said Interior Secretary Gale Norton said at a press briefing yesterday in Washington.

Many fascinating sites remain undiscovered by the public, she said.

According to the NPS, 413 million people visited national parks in 2003, which represents 23 million fewer visitors than in 1999.

The planned campaign aims at encouraging more travelers to explore the treasures of U.S. national parks and opening their eyes to less-visited parks, said Mrs. Norton.

A Web site (www.seeamerica.org) will be at the heart of the campaign, said William Norman, president of TIAA, a national organization representing the travel industry.

Visitors to the Web site will be able to search NPS sites by state, activity or ZIP code. They will also find maps as well as suggested travel itineraries.

Posters, flyers, e-mail and co-op advertising inserts are also planned as part of the effort to increase visitation to America’s national parks.

“These breathtaking sites pay tribute to America’s past and the principles upon which our great nation was founded,” Mrs. Norton said. “This unique partnership with the travel industry will help bring about additional opportunities to educate and inform the public about the many magnificent opportunities America’s national parks and special places have to offer our visitors.”

According to TIAA, nearly 40 percent of U.S. adults have visited a national park in the past five years, and 20 percent of international visitors itook a trip to a national or state park in 2002.

The preservation of the national parks depends on the number of travelers who come to visit them, said Mr. Norman.

Mrs. Norton praised the Bush administration’s proposed 2005 budget, which includes more than $1 billion for maintenance, rehabilitation and road repairs in America’s national parks.

President Bush is estimated to have visited more national parks than any previous president, she said.

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