WASHINGTON: Start your new year with a free visit to a national park! All 397 national parks across the country will offer free admission from January 14 through 16 to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
The National Park Service operates 11 National Park sites in Florida, and this is a great way to plan a field trip on the cheap. Many of Florida’s National Parks focus on the early history of our country and the military presence of Spain in Florida in the 1500 & 1600’s. Other Florida National Parks focus on preserving our the ecological heritage of key natural wonders such as the Everglades National Park, and Biscayne National Park. There are many ways to incorporate this into a science or history lesson that is also uniquely Florida. Here’s a list of National Parks in Florida, with links to their web pages on the National Park Service website:
Miami, Key Biscayne & Homestead, FL
Within sight of downtown Miami, yet worlds away, Biscayne protects a rare combination of aquamarine waters, emerald islands, and fish-bejeweled coral reefs. Here too is evidence of 10,000 years of human history, from pirates and shipwrecks to pineapple farmers and presidents. Outdoors enthusiasts can boat, snorkel, camp, watch wildlife… or simply relax in a rocking chair gazing out over the bay.
Titusville and New Smyrna Beach, FL
Situated on a barrier island along Florida’s east coast, inviting park highlights include pristine, undeveloped beach, dunes and lagoon offering sanctuary to an abundant blend of plants and animals. Year-round recreation includes fishing, boating, canoeing, surfing, sunbathing, swimming, hiking, camping, nature and historical trails.
St. Augustine, FL
A monument not only of stone and mortar but of human determination and endurance, the Castillo de San Marcos symbolizes the clash between cultures which ultimately resulted in our uniquely unified nation. Still resonant with the struggles of an earlier time, these original walls provide tangible evidence of America’s grim but remarkable history.
On a swelteringly hot day in May 1539, Spaniard Hernando de Soto splashed ashore at Tampa Bay intent on capturing the riches of La Florida by any means necessary. His army was alternately welcomed and opposed by Native American tribes throughout what is now the Southeastern United States in a four year, four thousand mile odyssey of intrigue, warfare, disease, and discovery.
Key West, FL
Almost 70 miles (112.9 km) west of Key West lies a cluster of seven islands, composed of coral reefs and sand, called the Dry Tortugas. Along with the surrounding shoals and waters, they make up Dry Tortugas National Park. The area is known for its famous bird and marine life, its legends of pirates and sunken gold, and its military past. Watch the new ‘Plan Your Visit’ video here or on YouTube!
Miami, Naples, and Homestead, FL
Everglades National Park, the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States, boasts rare and endangered species. It has been designated a World Heritage Site, International Biosphere Reserve, and Wetland of International Importance, significant to all people of the world.
the Timucuan Preserve; Jacksonville, FL
At the settlement of la Caroline, French settlers struggled for survival in a new world. Many sought religious freedom in a new land, while others were soldiers or tradesmen starting a new life. The climactic battles fought here between the French and Spanish marked the first time that European nations fought for control of lands in what is now the United States. It would not be the last time.
St. Augustine, FL
Coastal Florida was a major field of conflict as European nations fought for control in the New World. As part of this struggle, Fort Matanzas guarded St. Augustine’s southern river approach. The colonial wars are over, but the monument is still protecting—not just the historic fort, but also the wild barrier island and the plants and animals who survive there amidst a sea of modern development.
Gulf Breeze, Florida and Ocean Springs, Mississippi , FL,MS
The Gulf Islands National Seashore is located in Mississippi and Florida, and offers visitors a variety of cultural and natural resource opportunities.
Visit one of the last unspoiled coastal wetlands on the Atlantic Coast. Discover 6,000 years of human history and experience the beauty of salt marshes, coastal dunes, and hardwood hammocks. The Timucuan Preserve includes Fort Caroline and Kingsley Plantation. Learn about other activities in the park in the Plan Your Visit section.
Here’s a video of our visit to the Castillo de San Marcos:
If you have the time and budget, this weekend may be the perfect time to plan a trip to that special National Park that you have always wanted to take your children to.
For example, you can literally walk in Dr. King’s footsteps at Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site in Georgia, the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail in Alabama, or the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC – just a few of the many national parks that have direct ties to Dr. King or the Civil Rights movement.
Other parks that will hold special events honoring Dr. King that weekend include the new Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, DC, Morristown National Historical Park in New Jersey, Fort Donelson National Battlefield in Tennessee, and Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in Washington, DC.
“Dr. King led the fight to realize his dream of a nation free of discrimination, where every citizen was able to enjoy the inalienable rights promised to all Americans,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “Dr. King’s story and those of so many others whose efforts changed our country are preserved in the national parks, places where history happened. I hope every American can take advantage of the upcoming fee free weekend and visit their parks to experience their history firsthand.”
Your nearest national park can also help you keep that New Year’s resolution, whether it is to get more exercise, spend quality time with family and friends, try a new sport, learn some history, expand your horizons, or enjoy the natural world. There’s something for everyone at a national park, even in the middle of winter. Choices include snow shoe hikes, canoe trips, campfire programs, film festivals, battle reenactments, and music jams. It is also a great time of year to view wildlife such as bison in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming or grey whales at Point Reyes National Seashore in California. A list of activities can be found at www.nps.gov.
The National Park Service will also waive admission fees on 14 other days in 2012 – National Park Week (April 21 to 29), Get Outdoors Day (June 9), National Public Lands Day (September 29), and the weekend of Veterans Day (November 10 to 12).
About the National Park Service. More than 20,000 National Park Service employees care for America’s 397 national parks and work with communities across the nation to help preserve local history and create close-to-home recreational opportunities. Learn more at www.nps.gov.