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Fee-free dates to visit national parks announced

By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 6, 2011; A19

Want to visit a National Park this year but don't want to pay the entrance fees? Then plan to visit on any one of 17 days in 2011.

About 147 of the 394 parks and historic sites operated by the National Park Service charge admission fees from $3 to $25. Fees will be waived on the weekend of Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Jan. 15-17), National Park Week (April 16-24), the first day of summer (June 21), National Public Lands Day (Sept. 24) and the weekend of Veterans Day (Nov. 11-13), the National Park Service said Wednesday.

Several park concession stands and stores will also offer discounts on those days.

The Park Service has had free days in the past two years as a way of providing cost-friendly vacation options for American families during the economic downturn.

"Our fee-free days will give families many opportunities to enjoy our nation's heritage and natural beauty in meaningful and affordable ways," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement Wednesday.

Despite the government's goodwill gesture, the program has yielded no noticeable uptick in visitors, according to 2009 Park Service data. Less than a quarter of parks surveyed reported higher visitor rates and two-thirds of concession and lodging operators asked reported no attributable change in sales on a fee-waiver weekend that summer.

The free weekends cost the agency about $750,000 to $1 million in lost revenue each day, officials said.

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