America's National Parks Go Online, Street-View Style
Nature Valley has teamed up with hikers and videographers to create the ultimate virtual tour of three iconic American Parks—the Great Smoky Mountains, Yellowstone National Park, and the Grand Canyon.
The site, NatureValleyTrailView.com, which launched today, provides interactive maps of popular trails complete with videos of trail markers and points of interest. The result is 360-degree street-level imagery of over 100 miles in each park—as well as helpful information for each trail (distance, difficulty rating and elevation) for folks looking to embark on their own trekking adventure.
To create the maps, eight hikers set out into the parks with an 11-lense, Dodeca 2360 camera, which captures video footage from every direction simultaneously (editors then stitch the images together to create an immersive experience). And while the team has only covered three parks so far, they have plans to expand into other parks.
Hear about the team's experiences documenting the parks:
The project calls to mind Google's efforts to bring street view into art museums and to document the remote villages of the Amazon River Basin, but Google had nothing to do with this project. The venture was sponsored by granola-bar company Nature Valley which has aligned itself with our national parks in an effort to preserve them.
This project helps our parks in three ways—one, it provides much-needed cash to the park system, two it educates the public on these valuable natural resources, and three it digitally documents the land for eternity.
Of course, the role of big business in preserving our parks is not without controversy. Critics worry that corporate sponsors will wield undue influence over parks. But before you start freaking out about advertisements cluttering our views of the Grand Canyon, keep this in mind—90 percent of our budget for the National Park Service comes from Congress. And, as Mother Jones reported in a recent article, there are plenty of rules that protect the parks from conflicts of interest and corporate pressure.
As far as I'm concerned, I think it's cool—you can visit our nation's parks from the comfort of your couch, you can teach your children about the beauty and importance of our nation's natural resources, and when you're ready to visit you have a tool that can help you make the most of your experience.
What do you think?
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Free Admission to National Parks This Weekend
In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the National Park Service has announced that all 397 national parks around the country will be offering free admission from Saturday, January 14th, to Monday, January 16th, 2012. “Dr. King’s story and those of so many others whose efforts changed our country are preserved in the national parks, places where history happened," said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. "I hope every American can take advantage of the upcoming fee free weekend and visit their parks to experience their history firsthand.” Those wishing to learn more about the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., can pay a visit to the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta, Georgia, where both the home he was born in and his tomb with the Eternal Flame are on display. Follow in his footsteps along the National Historic Trail from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, now a designated historic byway. If you happen to be on the east coast, visit the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. and sit on the steps from which Dr. King delivered his famous "I Have A Dream" speech, or visit the newly opened Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in the National Mall. Events commemorating Dr. King's life will also take place at Fort Donelson National Battlefield in Tennessee, while the MLK Film Festival will be held at the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in Washington D.C. from January 14-16. Not sure where the closest national park is? Use this tool to find a national park near you and see what activities and events are offered in each park. It should be noted that all National Parks will also be free on the following dates: April 21-29, National Park Week; June 9, Get Outdoors Day; September 29, National Public Lands Day; and November 10-12, Veterans Day Weekend. We want to know: What are your favorite National Parks? Are there certain ones you take your family to every year, or others you plan to visit in the future? Tell us all about it! MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: 7 National Parks You've Never Heard Of Quiz: Think You Know the National Parks? National Parks (Minus the Crowds)
7 National Parks You've Never Heard Of
On November 7, Great Falls in Paterson, New Jersey, became the latest addition to the National Park family. After a long fight by Paterson residents and officials to have the 77–foot waterfall recognized, their dreams were fulfilled—partially—by Monday’s agreement. There remain years of work to mold Great Falls around Park Service standards, but the will, and the funds, can now be brought fully to bear on the project. See the parks. When Ulysses S. Grant declared Yellowstone the country’s first national park in 1872, early conservationists could have only dreamed of the vast network of protected areas that grace America’s states and territories today. Less than 140 years after Yellowstone’s induction, the National Park Service (NPS) now operates 397 parks and monuments. Great Falls might be years away from completion, but visitors have 396 other options to explore in the meantime. And there’s no better time for a park jaunt than this Veterans Day weekend, when over 100 national parks will waive their entrance fees. From November 11–13, explorers can enjoy the beauty and history of National Parks from Florida to Hawaii at no charge. (Many other National Parks are free throughout the year.) No doubt many visitors will take advantage of this largesse to visit Yellowstone, the Everglades and other crown jewels of the Park Service, but there are worlds of wonder beyond the well-trodden path. Why not take a chance on one of the Park Service’s more unusual and lesser-visited locales? Check out the following: Dry Tortugas. Hot and remote, the Dry Tortugas are one of the Park Service’s most inaccessible destinations. One thing they aren’t is dry; the seven islands lying seventy miles west of Key West received their name from their lack of terrestrial fresh water (and an abundance of turtles), but tropical storms inundate the little archipelago with some regularity. Visitors must take a ferry or seaplane to the park, but the reward is worth it: renowned for its marine life and snorkeling, the Dry Tortugas offer clean beaches and clear water, as well as an historic American fortress to explore. Best of all, you probably won’t have to share it with many other people. Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial. The Park Service isn’t exactly modest in its holdings: from the Grand Canyon, to California’s Sequoia National Park, to Wrangell–St. Elias in Alaska (the reigning champ at over eight million acres), it has its share of massive parks. But these spaces contain enough to fill a lifetime, so they might not be the best choice for a weekend trip. If you’re not up for getting lost in a vast wilderness, why not go to the opposite extreme and visit the smallest destination in the NPS? Commemorating the life of an American Revolutionary hero, this National Memorial includes exhibits and artifacts from Kosciuszko’s military career in the new country he helped to liberate. Housed within Kosciuszko’s small Philadelphia home and measuring in at only .02 acres, the memorial is perfect for a quick historical tour. Aniakchak. Only serious adventurers need apply for an expedition to Aniakchak, a swath of land in southwest Alaska encompassing the volcano that gives the park its name. Extreme weather, a rugged, remote landscape and various other inconveniences—like bears—have earned Aniakchak its place as the very bottom rung of the NPS popularity ladder, but the natural riches of wild Alaska are a pot of gold for the few willing to seek out the end of this rainbow. Sure, by the Park Service’s own estimates only a few dozen people make it out to Aniakchak each year—but what an unforgettable experience those determined few must have. African Burial Ground. From frontier Alaska to the glittering streets of New York, the National Park Service spans all environs. On the opposite end of the spectrum from Aniakchak is the African Burial Ground, located in Lower Manhattan. The monument preserves the remains of several hundred free and enslaved Africans buried in the 17th and 18th centuries. The burial ground was forgotten and built over in subsequent centuries, only to resurface in 1991 as a result of construction excavations. A monument and visitor center now honor the memories of the interred. (The African Burial Ground does not charge admission, but will be closed on Veterans Day.) Nicodemus National Historic Site. Billed by the Park Service as “the oldest and only remaining all Black Town west of the Mississippi,” Nicodemus was an important outpost for African Americans moving westward after the Civil War. The historical site in Kansas is comprised of several historic buildings within the still–living community of modern Nicodemus. The town also hosts historical festivals at points throughout the year. Hamilton Grange. Many of the Park Service’s most popular monuments are dedicated to familiar figures of American history. Abraham Lincoln’s three memorials alone attracted over six million visitors in 2010—a far cry from the New York City home of Alexander Hamilton, which received only around fifteen thousand visitors a year before closing for renovations in 2006. Hamilton Grange was reopened in September and is now accepting visitors—and at no charge. If Hamilton holds no interest for you, try another of the lesser–visited memorials dedicated to important Americans: the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site in Brookline, Massachusetts, celebrates the life of the renowned landscape architect; the Flat Rock, North Carolina Carl Sandburg Home remembers the storied career of the quintessentially American poet; and in Washington D.C., the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House stands in remembrance of the early, determined civil rights activist and educator. —Ryan Murphy MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: The Best National Parks For Fall Colors 10 Incredible National Parks of Canada National Parks (Minus the Crowds)
The Best National Parks For Fall Colors
Depending on the park, the temperature and elevation, there's still time to catch some great fall foliage at the country's national parks, where bright red, orange, and yellow leaves are often on display until the end of October (and even into November in some cases). In an ode to autumn, the National Park Foundation has put out a list of great national parks, and corresponding timelines, for colorful foliage displays. "Many factors impact the timing of peak fall colors viewing, therefore foliage seekers are encouraged to contact specific parks for the inside scoop on their unique foliage timing," the National Park Foundation advised. California Whiskeytown National Recreation Area Peak colors are expected sometime between the middle and end of October. Colorado Curecanti National Recreational Area The colors start to come out in late September and run through the end of October. Mississippi Natchez Trace Parkway In mid- to late October, the leaves of the maple, hickory, oak and other hardwood trees begin to change colors. Montana Glacier National Park The bright yellow and gold colors on the aspen and larch trees in the park run through mid-October covering the trails around the park, particularly along Summit Trail. For more information on the best trails for fall colors or for photos of them, visit Glacier's Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/glaciernationalpark. Pennsylvania Flight 93 National Memorial The trees around the Flight 93 National Memorial site begin to turn around mid-October. Go to honorflight93.org/webcam to take a virtual fall foliage tour. Tennessee Great Smokey Mountains National Park This park is home to more than 130 different tree species, many of which produce impressive autumnal hues. Peak foliage viewing depends on the various levels of elevation found within the park, but generally the foliage show runs from late September through October. Utah Zion National Park Peak foliage colors appear at the end of October and into the first few days of November. Vermont Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park Rich with sugar maples and 400-year-old hemlocks, this park has outstanding fall foliage each year, according to the National Park Foundation. This year's prime viewing is expected from mid-October through early November. Virginia Shenandoah National Park The colors start to come out at the upper elevations beginning in early to mid-October, and the lower elevations peak at the end of October into November. Wisconsin Apostles Islands National Lakeshore The most photogenic foliage varies depending on whether you're inland or closer to the coast, however the colors come out between late September and October. More from Budget Travel: 5 Fall Foliage Drives 50 Stunning Fall-Foliage Photos 6 Outdoor Fall Products You Never Knew You Needed
What you need to know about staying safe at our nation's parks
A 64-year old man had to crawl for days out of Canyonlands National Park in the Utah desert after he broke his leg. Amos Richards nearly died. He was lucky that intrepid rangers were able to find and rescue him. He had taken five liters of water and two power bars with him, and no rain jacket or other protective gear. Richards' story comes during an overall bad year for park safety. At more popular Yellowstone National Park alone, 17 people have died so far this year. The most recent and sensational case happened earlier this summer, when a hiker in Yellowstone was killed by a mother grizzly bear—one of two such deadly attacks this summer. Yesterday, an investigation revealed that the victim, Brian Matayoshi, 58, of Torrance, California, had not been carrying bear spray and had run, instead of standing still, when the bear approached—a definite no-no. Never run if a bear approaches, says the National Park Service. The most common injuries and fatalities in the wilderness are sprained ankles and knees, according to national studies published in the American Medical Journal. If you're in a remote location, this can put you at risk of not being rescued. As for deaths, the most common cause is falling. Abusing alcohol is also a "probable causative" factor in 40 percent of traumatic deaths. Drowning counts for one in five fatalities, so careful swimming is also important. If you're hiking alone, write down the general area of where you plan to explore and when you expect to be back and share it with someone responsible before you set out. Is solo hiking too dangerous? Or does the media blow these stories out of proportion? Sound off on the comments! MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: Trip Coach: National Parks National Parks (Minus the Crowds) 30 Spectacular Images of Our Nation's Parks