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January 9, 2012


Feds Employ Proven PR Tactic to Promote Parks, Attract Visitors

by Andrea Vernot

2012 Fee Free Days Begin this Weekend

Marketing pros have long employed the ‘loss leader’ or product give-away to create brand awareness and generate new customers.  From the candy and cereal samples I regularly receive with my daily newspaper, to the classic “comp” coupon for restaurants or retail stores, free can get you in a business’s door – and get you hooked on their goods or services.

Assateague National Seashore, Credit: Mindie Burgoyne

The National Park Service (NPS) has borrowed a page from this time honored PR tactic.  The NPS, along with the Fish & Wildlife Service, waives their entrance fees on designated days.  Their Fee Free Days are aligned with both national holidays – like this weekend’s Martin Luther King commemoration – as well as special designations celebrating our country’s “greatest national idea,” including National Parks Week, Get Out & Play Day and Public Lands Day.

I learned about this national promotion while visiting Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, a magnificent 25,000 acre waterfowl sanctuary and wetland outside Cambridge Maryland.  Out for an unseasonably warm day of biking and bird watching over Veterans Day weekend, we pulled up to the gate prepared to pay the $3 car charge only to be greeted by a sign proclaiming the fee free weekend.

After some quick research on the return trip, I learned that the NPS has 17 designated days in 2012.  The first “Fee Free Days” begins this weekend with the federal holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr.  January 14-16, 2012.  All national parks with entrance fees — including Maryland’s beloved Ft. McHenry National Monument & Historic Shrine, Assateague Island National Seashore and Antietem National Battlefield, will be free this weekend.  Visit the NPS web site for a complete list of Maryland properties and attraction and admission information.

Ft. McHenry National Monument & Historic Shrine, Baltimore, Maryland, Credit: Maryland Office of Tourism

If you haven’t visited the new Ft. McHenry Visitor Center since it officially opened in March 2011, you’re in for a treat.  The exhibits, gift shop and film — with its rousing crescendo –are definitely worth a visit.  A revitalized sea wall path was recently upgraded and broadened to carry the many area residents who regularly bike, walk or jog around this picturesque promontory

2012 NPS Fee Free Days

January 14-16          Martin Luther King

April 21-29               National Park Week

June 9                       Get Outdoors Day!

September 29          Public Lands Day

November 10-12     Veterans Day Weekend

Antietem National Battlefield, Hagerstown. Credit: Mindie Burgoyne


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