Saguaro NP popularity continues to grow as park service celebrat - Tucson News Now

Saguaro NP popularity continues to grow as park service celebrates centennial

Saguaro National Park celebrates National Park Service Centennial. (Source: Tucson News Now) Saguaro National Park celebrates National Park Service Centennial. (Source: Tucson News Now)
TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

As the National Park Service officially celebrates its 100th birthday on Thursday, Saguaro National Park looks to attract more visitors.
 
This weekend, Aug. 25 – Aug. 28, the park is waiving it’s entrance fee so people can enjoy the park for free.
 
However, there are no special public events planned. Saguaro National Park chose to celebrate the centennial in conjunction with the park’s 83rd birthday back in March.


More than 753,000 people visited the park’s east and west districts in 2015, the highest park rangers have seen in the park's history. Right now, officials tell Tucson News Now they are on track to break that record.

NPS reported those visitors spent nearly $47.4 million around the area including hotel, food and drink, gas, admission and fees, and souvenirs. They estimate the total local economic impact is nearly $60 million.
 

Even though park officials don’t closely track the demographics of visitors, there is a push to get more locals to take advantage of the beauty in their backyard through social media.
 
“Specifically, I think attendance is increasing this year because of publicity coming from our 100th anniversary,” said Ray O’Neil, chief ranger of Saguaro National Park. “We’re looking to reach out to young people. People who haven’t traditionally come to our parks as much.”
 
Tucson mom Kathryn Pagano said she only visits Saguaro National Park once a year, but hopes to do so more often. Today, she brought her homeschooled 5 and 6-year-old daughters to participate in a junior park ranger program.

“I think the Centennial is important because it shows that for 100 years we’ve cared about the land and we’ve made it important,” Pagano said.  


However, keeping the park protected and beautiful costs money.
 
Right now, the National Park Service is considering raising its vehicle entrance fees from $10 to $15. Rangers said increasing the amount hasn’t been done in about 20 years.

“The cost for entering Saguaro National Park is still cheaper than many other National Parks out there and I would argue that it’s cheaper than many of the other opportunities,” explained Saguaro National Park chief ranger Ray O’Neil.  “We would like to use the (extra) money for things like our trails program. That’s the biggest thing we use money from our fees program to work on is trail maintenance.”

The public comment period for the fee increase is over, but if there is a change it won’t take effect until January 2017. Read more about it here.
 

Park rangers said the park is also still recovering from the government shut down in 2013. However, with a fiscal year 2016 budget of $3,688,000, it’s the most amount of money they’ve seen in five years.

The Saguaro National Park visitor’s center located at 3693 South Old Spanish Trail closes today at 5 p.m. However visitors are allowed to drive through the park keeping in mind the gate locks 45 minutes after sunset.


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