Saving Centsably: Visit state parks this summer

June 25, 2014 

Each summer one of our family’s favorite low-cost options for fun and entertainment (and learning, too) is the Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites throughout our state.

According to the Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites Web page, there are 48 sites around our state where you can learn and play. I once heard the park service established the parks and historic sites in such a way that all Georgians are less than 100 miles from their closest park location.

Most of these sites have admission fees. Many of the parks have parking fees; the historic sites usually have some sort of admission fee. If our family of six people visited just six state parks and six historic sites during the course of 12 months (that is once per month), the cost would be about $180. In our budget, even these minimal fees are cost prohibitive.

But because of special savings days, special events and a family membership, we avoid these fees almost entirely!

The first way your family can save money when visiting a Georgia state park or historic site is to look for free events. June 14 was a free event day at Sweetwater Creek State Park as part of the “Get Outdoors Georgia” celebration.

While that event has passed, throughout the year there are other free celebratory events that cost very little, if anything. Visit the parks on Facebook to learn more about special events.

The second way your family can save money when visiting a Georgia state park or historic site is to purchase a family membership to the parks and historic sites.

Many people cringe when they think of the big investment that a family membership to an attraction costs. I find the Georgia State Park and Historic sites membership to be very affordable, actually.

The cost for a family is only $80, which provides a full 12 months of free visits to the state parks and reduced admission to historic sites.

Special programs such as nighttime ranger-guided trails or special group hikes are not included as part of the membership and still have an additional fee. But overall, the savings we see with this membership is quite significant.

Because the membership gives unlimited free visits to the state parks, there is no rush to be sure your kids understand everything about all the parts of the park.

You can return as often as needed throughout the next 12 months of the membership to be sure everything that can be learned has been learned!

There may also be a special emphasis one weekend -- perhaps about Native American culture or life during the Antebellum period -- that your family may enjoying focusing on.

Since you can visit free of charge anytime, you will not feel as if you are missing out on the “regular” parts of a site or a park as you focus on the special event.

As if these were not enough reasons to purchase a family membership to Georgia state parks, the two nights of free camping or a round of golf at a Georgia State Park might be worth it to you. For our family, the two free nights camping in our pop-up camper will cost about $60, so a large portion of the cost of the family membership is almost immediately offset by that savings.

Additionally, the family membership gives participants 10 percent off in the gift shops, 10 percent off camping fees, and 2 vouchers for $10 off two adult tickets for the Sam Shortline Railroad.

If your family would not benefit from the free camping or golfing, consider purchasing a state parking pass. A Park Pass can be purchased for only $50 from any state park.

This park pass covers the parking fees at all of the state parks. There is a discount of 50 percent for seniors 62 years old and older. A 25 percent discount is available for active military and veterans. Of course, there are varying levels of membership with the Friends of the State Parks -- if you do not need a family membership, you can purchase an individual membership for only $55.

Next week I will tell you about some of the great programs at the Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites and why they can be a really affordable (and fun) learning bridge for the summer months!

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