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Hikers climb on the rocks lining the water at Larrabee State Park. // Photo by Stella Harvey

Stella Harvey
From the forest-lined mountains to the saltwater sound, Washington state parks are rich with natural treasures. There’s no excuse to skip out on seeing them either, because during the first two weekends of June, you can visit them for free. June 2, 9 and 10 are Discover Pass Free Days at Washington state parks. Anyone can visit state parks across the state without paying an entrance fee, according to the Washington State Parks website. The Discover Pass is an annual pass that is purchased for Washington State Parks that allows visitors to enter all state parks year round, according to the Discover Pass website. Virginia Painter, communications director of Washington State Parks and the Recreation Commission, said these events give people the opportunity to explore the parks in their own backyard.
“If you can get out on a free day, that’s a good day to go try a park you’ve never seen before,’” Painter said. According to Painter, purchasing a Discover Pass funds the State Parks system by paying for things that tax dollars no longer cover. Amber Forest, park manager of Larrabee State Park, said each free day has some kind of significance. June 2 is National Trails Day, June 9 is National Get Outdoors Day and June 10 is Free Fishing Day. According to Painter, the Discover Pass was put in place when state parks lost most of their tax funding in 2011. Up until then, people could enter all Washington state parks for free because general tax funds kept the parks open. Painter said when tax funding was taken away, Washington’s park system struggled to survive financially. She said they had to lay off one-third of their staff and had to completely reorganize the department. “We decided that during recession, that’s when people need the outdoors the most,” Painter said. “We really wanted to do everything we could to not close [the parks]. We lost all these people and thinned everything out, so it wasn’t a great situation, but we kept [them] open.” She said that it was difficult at first to ask people to pay for services they thought they had been getting for free. Painter said the truth is, people were always supporting Washington state parks through taxes whether they realized it or not. Today, visitors have a choice of purchasing a $30 annual pass or a $10 day-use pass, according to the Discover Pass website. The annual pass can be used by two different vehicles allows passengers in both cars to access to park. Painter said when the pass was created, some people were worried about leaving out those who cannot afford an annual pass. She said because of this, it was written into the legislature that the agency director can offer up to 12 discover pass free days a year. Washington State Parks currently offer all 12 free days annually. They are often linked up with days the National Parks Service also offers free entry, Painter said. There are also opportunities to earn a discover pass through volunteering. After accumulating 24 volunteer hours, volunteers can receive a Discover Pass for free. Forest said Larrabee State Park is already buzzing on weekends. The park is located just over 10 miles south of  Bellingham and is one of over 100 parks that will be open for free on the upcoming Discover Pass Free Days, according to the Washington State Parks’ website. Forest said the park is a little over 103 years old and was Washington state’s very first state park. She said Larrabee has 18 miles of trails, 8,500 feet of saltwater beach fronts and two freshwater lakes that visitors can hike to. “Larrabee State Park seems to be a staging area for the North Cascades,” Forest said. Forest said visitors on the upcoming free days don’t have to worry about the park being overrun, but they will get busier as summer approaches. She said free days are a great way to sample a park you have never been to before and consider supporting state parks by buying a Discover Pass. Painter said when it comes to picking a park to visit, each one has something unique to offer its visitors. “If someone asks me what my favorite state park is after seeing all of them, I can’t really say because each one has something special,” Painter said. “I would say get out and check it out. Besides, nature is good for you!” For more information on Discover Pass Free Days or to learn about Washington State Parks, visit their website. Larrabee State Park is open for day use in the summer from 6:30 a.m. to dusk.
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