Editorial: Fun and free at the park

When it comes to money, nearly everyone is feeling the pinch here and there. Thanks to a tough local and national economy, many are now seeking alternatives to spendy vacations. For a lot of us, there's nothing better in the summer of 2009 than the word "free." In this regard, visitors to northern Arizona have had it pretty good when it comes to the Grand Canyon National Park. Entrance fees were waived for visitors June 20-21 and park officials plan to waive fees once again on Saturday and Sunday, which makes it the perfect time to plan your trip to the park.

This weekend marks the second of three planned "fee-free" weekends for national parks across the United States, including Grand Canyon. A third fee-free weekend will be held Aug. 15-16, so for those who can't make it up this weekend, start planning that August trip now. The free weekend came as a result of efforts by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to provide cheap alternatives for people seeking affordable vacations to the nation's national parks. With entrance fees at $25 a car, that's a bit of extra pocket money for Grand Canyon visitors. Keep in mind, however, that the free weekend does not mean those who plan to stay longer won't have to pay for the additional days, nor does it waive fees for camping and other items on one's itinerary.

Companies working within the park are also making it worthwhile for visitors by offering a few money-saving specials over the weekend. Companies such as Xanterra South Rim, LLC, and Delaware North will offer a number of specials throughout the weekend, including deals on desserts and ice cream, among other great bargains.

Whether you're coming from Williams, Flagstaff, Brooklyn or Cairo, there is no better time to make that trip to our national park and no better way to save a few bucks in the process. It may just make that visit to Grand Canyon taste a little sweeter. For more information on the national park's free weekend, including plans for other free weekends at parks across the country, visit their Web site at www.nps.gov/findapark/feefreeparks.htm.

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