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The National Park Service has embraced digital media and is bringing National Parks to your laptop and iPod. Hundreds of short audio and video programs are now available on National Park websites and on iTunes giving potential park visitors a chance to find out more about their destinations before they go. Download a free podcast and learn about park resources, take a guided tour, get help planning trips and get access to ranger-led tours of specific areas that you can enjoy at your own pace once you arrive at a park. There are also several virtual tours available for viewing online. Individual parks offer interpretive podcasts about wildlife, history and issues like fire management and climate change.

The most extensive collection of park podcasts is from Yellowstone National Park where they are reaching out to new and non-traditional audiences to renew interest in visiting the park. The Inside Yellowstone series has more than 50 vignette episodes with additional episodes on the way. The park also has another online series called Yellowstone InDepth that presents mini-documentaries on subjects like volcanoes, invasive species, bears and wolves.

  • Yosemite National Park has launched a new monthly podcast called Yosemite Nature Notes a new media version of its original printed publication of the same name which ran for 50 years, plus it also offers audio tours. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park has podcasts about geology, history, life and recreation.
  • Everglades National Park has a car tour (audio only) that leads listeners on a guided exploration down the main park road.
  • The civil war battlefields of Gettysburg, Petersburg and Richmond all offer podcasts that allow you to walk or drive along as you listen to an National Park Service historian talk about historic battles.
  • Grand Canyon National Park provides podcasts with important safety information about trail conditions and hiking and river running orientation videos.
  • Glacier National Park has virtual tour eHikes that take visitors through stunning wilderness areas among glaciers, wildflowers, and bears.
  • Visitors can learn about recreational activities like fishing, hiking, and camping before they go to Curecanti National Recreation Area .
  • Katmai National Park has an audio podcast weaving together music, stories and tips for reaching that remote wilderness area.
  • Finally, Acadia National Park has an eCruise along the rocky shores of Mount Desert Island.

New virtual tours coming soon include Zion National Park's eHike for Angel's Landing; and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks' eHikes through the Sierra Nevada foothills and among the giant sequoias.

Still online, the U.S. National Parks Service has operated its website for many years but has recently introduced a new user-friendly microsite -- "National Parks: Accessible to Everyone," which showcases trails, activities and a wide variety of features available at National Parks nationwide. Still in beta, the website will be constantly expanding to include new developments, programs and seasonal highlights so currently, not all parks are represented. In particular, the website features information for people with disabilities, including wheelchair accessibility and hearing and visually impaired facilities. There are guides to camp grounds, picnic areas, the best place to take in park vistas and details on how people with disabilities can get a lifetime Free Access Pass which provides free entry or 50% discount on most National Park amenities.

San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park has launched a new program -- a three-hour interpretive sail around San Francisco Bay aboard the historic two-masted scow schooner Alma built in 1891. Park visitors are invited to haul on lines to raise the sails under the guidance of the crew, listen to interpretive talks by a park ranger on San Francisco maritime history and enjoy the views from the deck. The Alma leaves Thursdays and Saturdays at 12:30 p.m. and returns to Hyde Street Pier at 4:00 p.m. Tickets are $35 for adults with discounts for seniors and students. For information and reservations, telephone 415/447-5000.

August 14 and 15, 2008 mark the 15th annual Native American Heritage Days at Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. Celebrate indigenous culture and history on the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. This event was originally to commemorate the last Native American group to occupy the North Rim of what eventually became Grand Canyon National Park the Grand Canyon -- the Paiute -- but today it honors all Native American groups with cultural ties to the Canyon area. There will be a series of activities and events including a morning nature walk and a special evening program on the Friday night. For more information on Native American Heritage Days, please telephone 928/638-7739. From September 5 to 21, 2008, the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park comes alive with the sound of music at the 25th annual Grand Canyon Music Festival which is performed at the South Rim's Shrine of Ages. On the program for this year are Joel Fan, piano; Maria Bachmann, violin; Amy Burton, soprano; Jon Klibonoff and Kamal Khan, piano; The Bonfiglio Group; the Enso String Quartet; Clare Hoffman, flute; James Bilagody, vocals/instrumentals; and ETHEL (Cornelius Dufallo, Ralph Farris, Dorothy Lawson, Mary Rowel). Adult tickets are $15 and children are $8 and can be purchased online.

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