WASHINGTON — Pandemic restrictions, remote work, and Zoom meetings all conspired to make the last year an isolating -- and largely indoor -- experience for many. Now the National Park Service (NPS) is encouraging people to get outdoors and shake off that cabin fever.
Saturday marked the start of National Park Week, a nationwide effort to highlight all the parks have to offer.
"It's a celebration of the 423 national parks across the country," said Park Ranger Katie Liming.
Many parks are free to enter all year long, but some others typically require an admission fee. To kickstart the celebration, visitors on Saturday enjoyed a one-day moratorium on admission fees at all parks.
The rest of National Park Week will feature themed days through Sunday April 25, like "Military Monday" and "National Junior Ranger Day."
Liming says park usage was strong throughout the pandemic and interest is now surging even higher.
"The weather's getting better, the COVID numbers are looking better, people are getting vaccinated," she said.
The open space and fresh air served as a refuge for many over the last year.
"I've been coming since COVID, so it's like my place," said Susan Anderson as she walked her dog in Rock Creek Park.
Andrew Sopher used the network of trails there to log long-distance runs.
"Whether it was walking my dog or going for a run, any opportunity to get outside in some sort of safe environment, that's what held me together," he said.
Liming says there are at least 15 national parks in the D.C. region. You can see them all here.
As more people return to the trails, there are some rules to remember.
According to Liming, masks are required wherever social distancing is impossible and dogs must be kept on a leash at all times.
"It's the law, and it's also the right thing to do," she said. "You probably have the best dog, but not everyone's a dog person and not everyone wants your dog to run up to them."
It's a small price to pay for the chance to get outdoors and dust off those winter cobwebs.
"I think it's a great way to take care of yourself after we've all been inside for so long," said Liming.
If you're planning a visit to a national park, you can find maps, tours, and other information in the NPS app.