THIS year’s 14th annual South African National Parks Week takes place from Sunday 8 to Sunday 15 September – once again in conjunction with partners Total South Africa and FNB.National parks focus week is a worldwide campaign which gives people free day access to national parks. This annual event gives all South African citizens the opportunity to visit one of the 21 national parks for free.In the past this would only apply to visitors during the week. This year SANParks has heeded the request from South Africans who aren’t able to visit national parks during the week, to include weekends. “It’s important for South Africans to visit and know the importance of national parks. They act as spaces to practise sustainable conservation, as spaces that preserve and celebrate our culture and heritage,” says SANParks Chief Executive Officer, Fundisile Mketeni.In what is known as the Frontier Region of SANParks, this applies to Addo Elephant National Park, Camdeboo National Park (Graaff-Reinet), Garden Route National Park (Tsitsikamma, Knysna and Wilderness sections), Karoo National Park (Beaufort West) and Mountain Zebra National Park (Cradock). Owing to the popularity of Addo Elephant National Park, gate quotas of 700 people per day per gate over weekends will apply – so it is advisable that visitors get there early to avoid disappointment.Each year SANParks aims to increase the number of citizens that are granted free access to national parks during this time. “Since we started the programme in 2006, a total of 438 361 South Africans have been afforded the opportunity to enter national parks and we want to see these numbers grow,” said Mketeni.He also highlighted the growing need for national parks to be relevant, particularly to young people and communities living adjacent to parks. “Through our socio-economic transformation programmes and our expanded public works programme, we work closely with communities living adjacent to national parks with the aim of strengthening our relationships with them.“This is in order to be more inclusive so we can tackle issues of wildlife crime with their help, afford them more access to parks for cultural use, inform young people about the different career options that parks have to offer and create job opportunities. “SANParks hopes to strengthen and enable those communities to reap the benefits of the national parks,” said Mketeni. )Visit a national park this year for free during SA National Parks Week, to see what it has to offer and to play your part by getting to know your national parks and experience first-hand the iconic beauty and plethora of natural flora and fauna.