Salazar: No entrance fees at national parks three weekends this summer

In an effort to boost the economy — and give beleaguered tourists a break — the National Parks Service is waiving admission fees for three weekends this summer, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced. Tourists can take advantage of the three free weekends at 147 national parks, monuments and recreation areas nationwide, including eight popular sites in Colorado.

“During these tough economic times, our national parks provide opportunities for affordable vacations for families,” Salazar said in a statement. “I encourage everyone to visit one of our nation’s crown jewels this summer and especially to take advantage of the three free-admission weekends.”

Entrance fees at national parks disappear the weekends of June 20-21, July 18-19, and August 15-16. Many National Park Service locations don’t normally charge entrance fees, but tourists visiting Rocky Mountain National Park during the promotional weekends will save $20 per carload. The waiver knocks $15 per car off the cost of visiting Mesa Verde National Park.

National parks, monuments in Colorado (Graphic/National Park Service)

National parks, monuments in Colorado (Graphic/National Park Service)

Click on the map to the left for a page listing all the National Park Service sites in Colorado.

Other National Park Service locations in Colorado that normally charge admission but will have free weekends this summer include Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado National Monument, Dinosaur National Monument, Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Hovenweep National Monument.

In neighboring states, Kansas offers but one National Park Service site that normally charges an entrance fee — Fort Scott — but Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico count plenty of crown jewels, including Yellowstone, Canyonlands and Carlsbad Caverns.

“National Parks also serve as powerful economic engines for local communities and we hope that promoting visitation will give a small shot in the arm to businesses in the area,” Salazar said.

The park system boasted more than 275 million visits last year, according to the parks service, pumping $10.6 billion into local economies and providing more than 213,000 jobs, on top of National Park Service jobs.

The waiver doesn’t include other fees for park visits, including camping, tours and concessions, but some tour operators, hotels, restaurants and gift shops are offering promotions during the free weekends. Sadly, the promotions don’t amount to much yet — free “eco-friendly” shopping bags at some sites and some buy-one-get-one tour discounts. In Colorado, the only promotion listed so far is a “free children’s souvenir water bottle with retail purchase of $35 or more” at Mesa Verde. But for tourists venturing outside the state, free mid-day rides on a luxury houseboat await visitors to Lake Mead, Lake Mohave and Lake Amistad on the three free Saturdays.

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Ernest Luning

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