Thursday, July 23, 2009

Travels With Kate - National Park Heartbreak

So last year we bought an annual pass for the National Park System. With the Grand Canyon and Arches both on our itinerary, it seemed like the prudent thing to do. A year flies by, as they tend to do, and it's due to expire at the end of the month. What do we decide to do?

Visit some National Parks, of course. Want to get some value out of that thing! (Of course, just seeing the Grand Canyon and Arches would have made it worth it, plus supporting the parks system, which we love.) So Saturday we head to the Klondike Museum in downtown Seattle, an urban park smack dab in the middle of the city. We walk up to the counter and flash the card.

"Oh, don't worry about that. This park has no entrance fee."

Dang. Oh well, better luck next time.

(It was a fabulous museum, full of interactive stuff for kids and plenty of info for all of us.)

Next day, we decide -- Mount Rainier! Why not? We'd been meaning to hit Rainier since we got back from last year's road trip, so it was the perfect opportunity. A beautiful, warm day, excited kids, an annual pass that expires in two weeks...brilliant!

We get to the entrance, flash the annual pass again. "Oh, you don't need that today. It's one of the three free weekends this year for National Parks."

You have GOT to be kidding me. Not only do we save NOTHING, everyone and his mother is on the mountain taking advantage of the free admittance.

(And yes, even though we didn't find any parking at the visitor center, we trundled down partway and walked a few easy trails with the kids. Fun was had, and the views were spectacular.)

Okay. It's starting to get serious. How can we save money when they refuse to charge us anything?

Two days later, it's over to the coast and the Lewis and Clark National Park. We stop at some heritage markers, check out the winding road along the Columbia river, and reach Fort Clatsop. Park, gather kids, enter visitor center. Haul the pass out of my purse with a sense of dread.

Victory! We've saved the admittance fee! (And no comments about how the kids would have gotten in free anyway. I'm busy basking in the moment.)

So that's the story of my run-in with the National Park system. And despite the comedy of errors trying to "use" the pass up before it expires, each park was fabulous and I highly recommend them.

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