Sunday, August 2, 2009

Take Advantage Of Local Parks

Saving Money Tip #171 - Take Advantage of Local Parks. Did you ever notice that if you go away for the day that it sometimes feels like you went on vacation even though you were less than hour from your home? Going to local sites and bringing a picnic lunch is a wonderful and cheap way to spend summer day. Do a Google search for local parks in your area. You may be surprised at how many there are near where you live. In Northern Virginia where I live there are county-run parks, state parks, regional parks and even a few National Parks nearby. Some have greater amenities than others, but each one has its own traits and amenities. We could probably go to a different park all summer long and not cover all of them in the DC metro area.

The nice thing about parks is the entrance fees are often very low or often free. Compared to going to commercial entertainment venues, they are a great bargain. Why pretend you are navigating your way through the water playing a video game when you can rent a rowboat at a park and do it for real? Why climb in a plastic play area at the mall when you go do real climbing in the woods? Parks are often underutilized, when in fact they provide great entertainment and educational value for very little money. And often after spending the day at one of them, it fees like you were on a vacation in a faraway place. You would be surprised at all of the fun things parks can offer:

--hiking and walking trails
--scenic vistas
--sporting fields
--biking trails
--ranger-led talks
--picnic areas
--cabins and campsites
--and many others

Find a park near you that offers amenities that you like. Pack a lunch or dinner and go spend an afternoon or evening there. One day at the park often won’t even be enough to cover everything they offer. You may find yourself going back again and again or maybe inspired to check out other parks in your area when you realize what a great value they are.

In Real Life –
We spent the day at a local park yesterday. We had been there twice before – once to check it out and play on their playground and once to go swimming at their waterpark. The park itself is huge and offers hiking trails, a shooting center, a waterpark, camping, cabins, sporting fields, equestrian fields, and playgrounds among other things. We could have spent several days at the park and not have done it all. But we were there to do a mini camping getaway and to take advantage of some of the park’s amenities.

Entrance to the park was free since we live within its jurisdiction. Even if we hadn’t, it would have cost a mere $7 for the whole carload. The first thing we did when we got there was participated in a ranger-led event that was both educational and fun. It included a talk by a naturalist about water critters and a walk along a pond with nets trying to catch crawfish and other water creatures. My daughter loved it (even though she didn’t catch anything). After that talk we grilled dinner of hamburgers, hotdogs, and chicken that we brought from home. The park also provided a scavenger hunt game for kids that my children played. A simple brown paper bag with a list of items written on a piece of paper stapled to it that the children should find. And if they found them all, they would get a small prize (we didn’t find everything, unfortunately). Still it was a fun activity for kids. There was also a large playground with updated equipment much different than the typical swings and monkey bars that many playgrounds offers that my children enjoyed playing at. At night there was another nature walk and talk led by a park ranger. We learned about nocturnal animals and their mating calls. We even got to hear their calls and see such animals as owls, toads, and frogs up close. We rented a campsite for $23 for the night. And toasted marshmallows and made s’mores before going to sleep.

In the morning we planned to go to the waterpark for the day. Campers get discounted rates, so for a family of four, it would only cost $16. Unfortunately, we awoke to fairly heavy rain, so we ditched the waterpark and headed home. If the rain had not gotten in the way of our plans, we would have spent a total of about $40 plus the cost of our food to spend two full days at a local park less than 30 minutes from our home. Even if we did not want to camp, we could have easily spent the day and spent absolutely nothing but the cost of our food, or we could have gone to the waterpark and spent under $30 total. Every member of our family, as well as our friends who went to the park with us, had a great time. We enjoyed it so much that we are planning to do it again in a few weeks at another local park. Besides the entertainment, we got exercise and learned a few new things, as well. And each time we go, I wonder why we don’t use our parks more often. They are a great, cheap resource to take advantage of.

1 comment:

Your Frugal Friend, Niki said...

Great post! I am really enjoying your blog.

Since I started blogging and hearing other people's frugal activities I have opened myself up to becoming more outdoorsy. Which is pretty big since I was the girliest of all girls growing up, and from the city no less! I now enjoy camping and parks and gardens. Strange how things change.