Free national parks program soon to end, but kids will still get in free in 2018

Nature

Free national parks program soon to end

OTTAWA — The party is nearly over: the free admission to national parks and heritage sites that accompanied Canada’s 150th birthday bash will come to an end Dec. 31.

Earlier this year, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna was considering whether to extend the free admission to parks and heritage sites because the program had proven so popular.

But McKenna now says the admission fees will return for adults as of Jan. 1, although she is following through on plans to make national parks free for kids starting in 2018.

The free parks program helped push attendance at national parks up 12 per cent in the first seven months of the year, with some parks so busy they had to close their gates temporarily on occasion.

More than 14 million people took a trip to a national park or heritage site between Jan. 1 and July 31, up from about 12.5 million in the same period in 2016.

In July, some parks saw almost twice as many monthly visitors as the previous summer, such as Point Pelee National Park in southwestern Ontario, where July visits were 90 per cent higher than the same month in 2016.

Canada budgeted about $76 million on the free parks program, including lost gate revenues, addressing increases in visitors and distributing free discovery passes.

Parks Canada runs 47 national parks and 170 national heritage sites, in every province and territory.

A one-year family pass, good for up to seven people in a single vehicle to visit more than 80 national parks and heritage sites, will cost $136.40, the same price of the annual Discovery Pass in 2016. A single adult pass will be $67.70 and seniors will pay $57.90.

Some parks also offer an annual pass just for that park, including Prince Edward Island National Park and Riding Mountain National Park in Manitoba.

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