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A (very) brief history of Passport To Your National Parks®In 1986, the National Park Service entered into a joint agreement with Eastern National, the organization that owns and manages the bookstores in the National Parks east of the Mississippi River. The idea was simple: Create a program that provided visitors to the National Parks with a free memento of their travels at every park, inviting them to increase the frequency and quantity of their National Park visits by encouraging them to collect Passport cancellation stamps.The Passport To Your National Parks® is nothing more than a breast pocket sized book that contains instructions for its use, basic maps of each of its nine regions, and blank pages for cancellation stamps and for sets of color, adhesive-backed stickers that Eastern National issues on an annual basis. Users stop at the Passport Cancellation Station in each National Park and imprint their Passport books with the stamp they find there. Each stamp has an adjustable date, so the stamp become a permanent reminder of the day the Passport holder visited the park.While the National Park Service currently divides the nation into seven geographic regions, Eastern National chose nine regional divisions for the Passport to achieve an even distribution of the parks over all of the regions. Regions are designated in the Passport book by color, and each region includes a color-block map of the region¿s states, a list of the parks in that region, and blank pages for collection of stamps and stickers. This regional color-coding extends right to the stamps themselves: the stamps collected at each National Park have ink colors that coincide with their regional divisions. In other words, a stamp in Pennsylvania will have light blue ink to match the Mid-Atlantic Region's designated color in the Passport book; a Maine stamp will have golden brown ink to match the Northeast Region's color, and so on.The sticker sets, issued every February by Eastern National, showcase one park from each of the nine regions with a color photograph and brief description of the park. Each set also includes one larger National Stamp, honoring a park that¿s celebrating a special anniversary or milestone in that year. Like the stamps and the Passport book, the stickers each have a color bar that matches their region's color, making it very easy to place these stickers on the correct pages in the Passport book.Was it the simplicity of the concept, the easy-to-use elements, the universal appeal of the call to "Collect them all!" or the sheer diversity of the parks themselves that led to the Passport To Your National Parks®' extraordinary, continuous success? Whatever the reasons, the results are clear: More than 1.3 million Passport To Your National Parks® books have been sold to date, and the little book remains the bestselling item in Eastern National's inventory.It began with just one stamp at each park, but as the Passport To Your National Parks® program grew, so did the number of stamps at many of the larger parks. Over the course of years, parks began to order additional stamps from Eastern National and its counterpart across the Mississippi, Western National. Participation in the program by the parks has always been voluntary, but no park has rejected the program (with the exception of Hohokam Pima National Monument in Arizona, which is not open to the public). In fact, hundreds of parks have chosen not just to participate, but to expand the potential for Passport stamping within their boundaries as well. The smallest parks may have just one stamp on the property, but the more expansive parks--Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Acadia, Olympic, Everglades, Delaware Water Gap and many others--offer anywhere from five to sixteen stamps in bookstores, visitor centers, museums, train depots, ranger stations, lighthouses and information kiosks, luring stamp collectors to stray from the main paths and discover the hidden treasures beyond. For some stamp collectors, one program barely satisfies their insatiable appetite for stamping--and other nationwide stamping programs are ready to feed that need. The United States Lighthouse Society has its own Passport program that began in 1984, with a reward at the end of your travels: Send your filled Passport to the Society's main office in San Francisco, and receive a special embroidered patch for your efforts. The comparatively new Blue Goose Passport, a hardcover stamping book introduced in 1999 and offered by the National Wildlife Refuge gift shops, is available in any national refuge gift shop. The US Bureau of Land Management offers stamps at many of its properties, and many of the National Forests have stamps as well, no doubt in response to thousands of requests they've received from National Park Passport owners who now demand a memento of every trip they take to anywhere, regardless of the destination's status as a National Park. Several states have joined the fun as well: Missouri, Minnesota and Florida state parks all have stamping programs.So once Passport stampers have completed the quest to see all 388 National Parks, they have plenty of additional programs to embrace and conquer--or to pursue simultaneously. So much to see, so many places to visit, and so many stamps to collect ...these are the charms of the Passport To Your National Parks® program, a clever concept that has grown beyond anyone's expectations to become a nationwide passion.