Forest of the free

Fees into national parks waived for Veterans Day

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— A trip to one of the country's national parks may not be what most families have in mind to honor veterans this weekend, but the U.S. Forest Service is offering some incentive to make those trips more plausible.

Today through Monday, visitors to certain federal recreation sites will pay nothing.

The U.S. Forest Service waived fees at national forests across the nation in recognition of Veterans Day and people affected by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Mary Peterson, Forest Supervisor for the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests and Thunder Basin National Grassland, said the waived fees served as Forest Service employees' invitation for the public to rediscover national forests and grasslands.

"We extend this invitation in recognition of the sacrifices of veterans and the efforts of all rescue workers, as well as the families, that lost loved ones and friends in the terrorist attacks," she said.

Nature gives everyone a chance to step back from the busyness of life and enjoy the camaraderie of friends and family, or to be alone, Peterson said.

"National forests and grasslands offer a tremendous diversity of landscapes in which to recreate and renew," she said.

The Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests and Thunder Basin National Grasslands provide several recreational opportunities to visitors, including 93 campgrounds and picnic sites, seasonal hunting, and more than 1,300 miles of trails for hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders.

The time of year, however, will limit visitors' options for recreation, said Tom Florich, program manager for Medicine Bow-Routt recreation lands and minerals.

"We're in between the winter season and the summer season, which is not when we see a lot of people coming to national parks," Florich said.

The low volume of people who might take advantage of three days of free admission to national parks should keep the financial impact to a minimum, he said.

Most of the campgrounds will be closed, he said, and visitors should not count on getting cabin rentals free of charge.

"The Forest Service is doing this as a service, so they may lose some money, but that's not the point," Florich said. "It's taking an opportunity of a particular holiday to show our appreciation."

The Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest Steamboat Springs office said those who want to take advantage of waived fees over the weekend will find that access to local sites is limited at this time of year.

Only Fish Creek Falls will be open to the public and free of charge.

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