The next time you load the family in the car for a drive down the Interstate, don’t forget your passports. Your Passports to Your National Parks, that is.
Talk about bargain souvenirs, some 390 sites administered by the National Park Service (NPS) issue free self-service “passport cancellations” which record the location and date of your visit. The rubber stamp imprints resemble international port of entry stamps.
Passports are easy to obtain. You don’t even need a birth certificate. Most NPS visitor centers sell the spiral-bound 6 x 3.5 inch passports and a special “Kids’ Passport to Your National Parks Companion” is designed to enhance youngsters’ NPS and passport experiences. (That is strictly a companion guide, not a kids’ version of the passport.) You may also purchase passports and companion guides via the Internet or mail order directly from Eastern National, an organization that supports the national parks.
Besides famous preserves like Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and Great Smoky, NPS also oversees historic sites across the 50 states and US Territories. Therefore, history buffs treasure parks passports as much as nature-lovers. For example, Federal Hall at the foot of Wall Street where George Washington took the oath as our first president is one of a dozen passport cancellation sites in and around New York City. After snapping your photo alongside George’s statue, hop on a subway and head up to 28 East 20th Street for another cancellation at the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site. No surprise that visitors to Washington, D.C. will find 17 passport venues.
While the cancellation stamps are free, they can only be obtained in person at NPS sites. However, parks aficionados can augment their passports by purchasing sets of stickers (think oversized postage stamps), which may be obtained by mail or at NPS visitor centers. Each year NPS issues a new “national” sticker and one sticker for each of its nine geographic regions. Sets from past years are also available for purchase. The passport includes separate spaces for cancellations and stickers.
Non-NPS sites are getting into the act. Chimney Rock, once a signpost for covered wagons in western Nebraska, falls under the auspices of the Nebraska State Historical Society. So many visitors sought passport cancellations that the Society set up a cancellation station. Likewise, some local Chambers of Commerce in historic areas offer their own stamps. Occasionally NPS locations feature additional imprints to go with the standard round date and location imprint. For example, visitors to Mount Rushmore will find a stamp of the four commemorated presidents besides the standard cancellation.
Some sites offer more than one stamp. Lowell National Historic Park in Massachusetts, which chronicles the coming of the Industrial Revolution to New England mill towns, offers a different stamp at each of its three ranger stations. Gargantuan parks offer separate cancellations for each visitor center. Yellowstone has a special Old Faithful cancellation. Stamps commemorating geographically expansive sites such as the Oregon Trail or Pony Express extend across NPS outposts in several states.
Family members can keep their own individual passports or can share a single collection. Regardless, these souvenirs are lots of fun! What’s more, net proceeds from passport sales go to the National Parks Service.
For further information, including NPS locations, or to obtain a passport or regional stickers by mail, call Eastern National Toll free 877-628-7275 or go to www.eparks.com.
W.E. Reinka is a father of two who is preparing for a family road trip to gather Parks Passports stamps in the Southwest.
Published: June 2010