Twenty libraries across Wisconsin will soon provide free admission passes to all state parks for up to 1,000 library card holders.
Beginning November 1st, the pilot program “Check Out Wisconsin State Parks” is a collaboration between the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and local libraries. Each participating library will receive 50 passes available for one time use. Nicolet Federated Library System and Southwest Wisconsin Library System covered the costs of the passes.
“The DNR is continually looking for innovative opportunities to bring more people to state parks and forests and to ensure everyone in Wisconsin has access to our incredible natural resources,” said Steve Schmelzer, director of the Wisconsin State Park System, in a recent statement. “By partnering with Wisconsin’s library system, we can reach households who may not be as familiar with the wide array of opportunities Wisconsin’s state parks and forests have to offer.”
Library card holders who check out a pass will also receive a kit featuring maps and info about the state parks system, stickers, accessibility information, and more. The kit also includes a Wisconsin Explorer book for ages 9 and up, which can be exchanged for another book at nature centers and park offices.
According to Missy VanLanduyt, DNR recreation partnerships section chief, libraries in rural and urban areas across the state were chosen based on a variety of socio-economic variables, including unemployment rate, free and reduced lunch rate, health insurance, poverty rate, age, and race.
Participating libraries include Franklin Public Library, Hales Corners Public LIbrary, Glendale’s North Shore Public Library, Oak Creek Public Library, Shorewood Public Library, Wauwatosa Public Library, Whitewater’s Irvin Young Memorial, Hayward’s Sherman & Ruth Weiss Community, and many more.
The pilot program ends March 1st, 2023. The DNR plans to launch phase two of the program this winter with more libraries enrolling, hoping to make it a permanent program in 2023.
Usually, daily admission passes to Wisconsin state parks cost about $8, $10 or $13 depending on the park, $3 for residents age 65 and older, and annual passes are available $28 or $13 for seniors. However, there are state parks, such as Havenwoods State Forest and Lakeshore State Park in Milwaukee, that are free to visit year-round.
The DNR also typically hosts a Free Fun Weekend every year during the first weekend of June. If you want free access to all state parks in the summertime, that is your opportunity.
Overall, the “Check Out Wisconsin State Parks” program is a great way for people who are stuck inside or who rarely get to visit these parks the chance to sample Wisconsin’s gorgeous wildlife, and hopefully the DNR and Wisconsin libraries can solidify a more permanent program in the future.