State parks usually require a Discover Pass, which costs a trailblazer $30 annually or $10 for a one-day pass.
The Discover Pass was created by the State Legislature in 2011 to balance out the reduction of taxes supporting parks and other recreation areas operated by Washington State Park System, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, according to the Discover Pass website.
Along with the creation of the pass, the Washington State Park System can now provide up to 12 free days per year.
“Martin Luther King Day is often a day when people like to go out in nature,” said Virginia Painter, communications director for Washington State Parks and Recreation. “Some people go volunteer different places, but we just tried to pick days where people would really have an opportunity.”
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is also a day when Washington State Park System’s free day lines up with the National Park Service’s free day. This happens again on Aug. 25, the National Park Service’s 100th birthday, Sept. 24, National Public Lands Day and Nov. 11, Veterans Day.
“We wanted to provide opportunity for people who feel they can’t afford the Discover Pass,” Painter said. “And also give people a chance to go and try some state parks if they haven’t visited one or try a different park they do not typically visit.”
Bellingham is tucked between three state and national parks — Larrabee State Park, Birch Bay State Park and North Cascades National Park; all three offer very different options for recreation, said junior Katherine Feltner, a Western Outdoor Center member.
“The closest state park is Larabee State Park on Chuckanut Drive,” Feltner said. “You won’t be able to find snow there but you would definitely be able to go camping, you can go kayaking, there’s some great trails, you can hit up Oyster Dome or Fragrance Lake.”
Birch Bay State Park sits right along the shore, about 23 miles north of Bellingham and is included in the areas offering western Washington recreation activities.
At the North Cascades National Park, popular hikes are Heliotrope Ridge, Skyline Divide and Yellow Aster Butte. The northern Cascades are popular for their skiing, snowshoeing and backpacking. With the snow, however, it is advised that backcountry safety gear be brought, all of which and more can be obtained at the Western Outdoor Center.
“I just would like more people going outside. I know camping, snowshoeing or skiing isn’t for everyone. But even if it is like walking in the [Sehome Hill Arboretum] or going on some local trails,” Feltner said. “We have beautiful beaches in Bellingham– go to Squalicum Beach or go to Locust Beach and just be outside if you can.”