Trip Coach: April 8, 2008
Kurt Repanshek, author of "National Parks With Kids," answered your questions about vacations in the National Parks with (and without) children.
Roanoke, Va.: Do you have any tips for combating mosquitoes? It's particularly bad every time I visit Assateague National Park.
Kurt Repanshek: Roanoke, I feel your itch. Seriously.
I've tried just about everything for persuading mosquitoes to bite someone else, with little luck. I've tried DEET (Cutter, Off, you name it), I've tried Burt's Bees, I've tried skin lotions, I've tried that supposedly bug-repellent clothing, I've tried patches.
I'm afraid I haven't found a reliable solution. I usually start with the least-repugnant remedy and move on from there towards the heavy duty DEET concoctions. I like the Burt's Bees bug repellents, as they're natural (built around Rosemary, Lemongrass, and Citronella oils with 5 other oils that bugs supposedly hate) and, frankly, smell OK. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't.
The only sure-fire solution I've discovered is restricting my campouts to before Memorial Day and after Labor Day.
San Francisco, Calif.: What's NEW in national parks? Any amazing new parks open west of the Mississippi in recent years? Also--what do you think is the most underrated park, and why?
Kurt Repanshek: Hi San Francisco. What's new in the parks? Well, probably the "newest" park west of the Mississippi is the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site in eastern Colorado some 2 to 3 hours from Denver.
Dedicated just about a year ago by National Park Service Director Mary Bomar, Sand Creek tells the sad tale of the U.S. Army's slaughter of members of Cheyenne and Arapahoe tribes on November 29, 1864. If history interests you, this would be a great "new" Park Service site to visit.
And while you're in the area, I'd highly recommend a visit to nearby Great Sand Dunes National Park. Although it gained national monument status back in 1932, it wasn't until 2000 that an act of Congress bestowed national-park status on Great Sand Dunes.
This park offers not only has sand dunes—30 square miles of dunes, some of which climb 750 feet—but also alpine peaks rising to 13,000 feet, high-country lakes, and forests of aspen and conifers. In other words, you get quite a bit of bang for your buck when you visit Great Sand Dunes National Park.
New York, N.Y.: When does it pay off to buy a year-round parks pass from NPS? And what are the pros and cons? In other words, how many trips do you need to take to make it worth considering--or are there other perks? much obliged
Kurt Repanshek: New York, New York. These days, if you plan to visit three or more parks in a year's time, the $80 investment in an America The Beautiful Pass generally is worth it, as more and more parks are charging either $20 or $25 for entry.
Now, I was pretty disappointed when they went from the National Parks Pass to the ATB Pass. With the National Parks Pass, you knew your $50 was going right to the National Park Service and the national park system. With the $80 ATB Pass, it all depends on where you buy your pass.
Since the ATB Pass covers entry to "fee lands" on lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, AND the National Park Service, fees currently are distributed to the agency that sells the pass. In my case, the nearest Forest Service office is about a 25-minute drive away, while the nearest NPS unit is about an hour. So if I didn't care which agency my money went to, I'd buy the ATB Pass at the Forest Service office. Since I want my dollars to go the parks, I make a point to buy the pass at a Park Service site.
Now, if you're planning to visit the same park over and over again over the course of a year, you can save money by buying that specific park's "annual pass" instead of shelling out for the ATB. For instance, at Acadia National Park the annual pass costs just $40, or half the ATB.
There is talk in Congress of bringing back the National Parks Pass, but I'm not holding my breath.
Boston, Mass.: What's your favorite, must-bring, most indispensible tool for backpackers in the parks?
Kurt Repanshek: Boston, I'm gonna guess that you're exempting tents, sleeping bags, water bottles, matches, and that sort of thing.
I guess something along the line of a Leatherman multi-tool would be one of the best things to pack, ounce-for-ounce. After all, a good one has a can opener, a knife or two, scissors, awl, file, screwdriver, pliers, bottle opener, and on and on. Seems like a no-brainer.