America’s Public Lands Free This Weekend

The sun shines on water surrounded by green and golden mountains.

Maroon Bells in Colorado’s White River National Forest. Photo © Carl & Peggy Backes.

On Tuesday – after posting a news update about this weekend’s free admission at all of America’s national parks – I received an email from Kelly Restuccia, Communications Manager of the American Park Network, who informed me that America’s national parks aren’t the only ones offering free admission this weekend. Apparently, in honor of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, basic day-use fees will also be waived at many other public lands throughout the United States – including national forests, national wildlife refuges, and Bureau of Land Management areas.

As with the National Park Service, not all of the properties overseen by the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Land Management normally charge day-use fees (for maintenance of lands and amenities), but those that do will be free to visit and explore this weekend, from tomorrow, January 14th, through Monday, January 16th. This fee-free weekend – as well as other fee-free days throughout 2012, such as Get Outdoors Day (June 9), National Public Lands Day (Sept. 29), and Veterans Day weekend (Nov. 10-12) – is an effort by the U.S. Department of the Interior to encourage Americans to explore the country’s natural beauty, rich history, and multifaceted culture. By increasing such visitor opportunities, it’s hoped that local economies will be stimulated as well. “We encourage the public to get outdoors in America’s vast and dynamic playground,” says Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “We hope that visiting your beautiful national forests and grasslands will help people gain a deep appreciation for natural resources, and create lifelong memories.”

In addition, fee-free days will hopefully foster environmental stewardship. “While the BLM serves as the steward of America’s public lands, we can’t do our job alone,” says BLM Director Bob Abbey. “Waiving fees a few days out of the year may help some people, who might otherwise not have the opportunity, to experience their public lands and develop a passion for them as others have.”

Just remember that, no matter which of America’s numerous national parks, national forests and grasslands, national wildlife refuges, and BLM lands you choose to visit, this fee-free weekend only applies to general day-use fees. Other fees, such as overnight camping costs, cabin rentals, and the like, will remain in effect. Luckily, though, many hotels, restaurants, gift shops, and tour operators near or on public lands tend to offer specials on fee-free days, so be aware of such money-saving opportunities – and, of course, have fun!

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