Photograph by Nikki Kahn, Washington Post/Getty Images
January 12, 2012
"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," U.S. National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis said in a statement.
Visitors can retrace King's footsteps at the Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site in Georgia, the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail in Alabama, or the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., as well as other sites that have direct ties to King or the civil rights movement.
"Fee-free days are important opportunities where the Park Service puts out the welcome mat and invites all Americans to relax, recreate, and learn about our shared heritage," Bryan Faehner, the associate director for park uses at the independent National Parks Conservation Association, told National Geographic News.
Other parks that will hold special events honoring King this weekend include the new Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial in Washington, D.C., Morristown National Historical Park in New Jersey, Fort Donelson National Battlefield in Tennessee, and the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in Washington, D.C.
More Free-Parks Days Ahead
More traditional nature and wilderness parks such as Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon will also waive entry fees this weekend. Fees vary for different sites, but can be as high as $25 per vehicle. Still, many of the country's nearly 400 national parks never charge an entrance fee at all.
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)
--Veterans Day Weekend (November 10 to 12)
"People have to get themselves there," Faehner said, "but they won't have to pay an entrance fee, which can turn certain people away."
Faehner recommends people to visit national parks during the fall and winter to avoid the summer crowds and to get a different perspective on the sites.
For example, "Civil War and Revolutionary War soldiers fought and struggled throughout the winter months, so park visitors can get a better perspective on what these soldiers went through," he said.
"The changing of the seasons affects what and how you experience national parks," Faehner said.
"Especially in the winter, when you can oftentimes experience a kind of solitude that you might not find otherwise."