There’s no telling whether it will be enough to get kids off their devices and into the great outdoors, but all of Canada’s national parks will be free for visitors 17 years and under starting in 2018.
The move was announced on Thursday by Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna, who was joined by the Prime Minister’s wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau.
“There is no better way to celebrate families than by enjoying the outdoors and discovering the countless benefits of nature for our health and wellness,” Grégoire Trudeau said in a news release. Grégoire Trudeau, who also serves as Parks Canada’s honorary guide for families, also said that visiting the country’s national parks and historic sites “create memories that will last a lifetime,” just as they have for her and her family.
The decision to offer free admission for those 17 and under was made after visits to national parks spiked in 2017. Thanks to free admission in celebration of Canada’s sesquicentennial year, Parks Canada’s preliminary estimates showed more than 14 million visits between January 1 and July 31, which is a 12 percent increase over the year prior.
McKenna was reportedly thrilled with these numbers when they were released at the end of August, and said that the government needed to take a look at the overall impact on the local community to determine what should be done with admission fees moving forward.
“I think it’s a good time to take a step back and actually look at the broader economic case for national parks and historic sites,” she said. Some local business owners were thrilled by the prospect of extending free admission, but without all of the hype around Canada’s 150th, it’s hard to say if it will really make an impact.
“When I talk to a lot of the customers, they’re down here for the Canada 150 celebrations,” Mike Makhlouf, co-owner of Freddy’s restaurant near Point Pelee National Park, told CBC News in late August. In addition to free admission and special events, Canada was also named the number one country to travel to in 2017 by travel media giant Lonely Planet.
The 2018 passes are now available online, but only time will tell if the youth discount will be enough to drive more families outside this summer.