The 59 U.S. National Parks, treasures of natural beauty, unique geology, diverse flora and fauna, and incomparable recreational features, celebrate National Park Week starting April 15. As part of the recognition, admission will be free during two weekends (April 15-16 and 22-23) – a great incentive to visit a park near you – or to plan a last-minute trip.
If you enjoy taking advantage of free opportunities and you’re open to new adventures and experiences, you might consider some unique options for visiting a national park and staying for free. Many of the parks offer volunteer work such as visitor assistance, wilderness restoration, artist-in-residence, minor upkeep, or clerical work, and provide housing in an assortment of campgrounds, RV facilities, and even cabins. Check individual park websites for information on volunteering, or learn more through the V.I.P. (Volunteers in Parks) Program.
Another choice – a classic win-win situation – is offered by Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), an organization that builds awareness of ecological farming practices by linking organic farmers with visitors who help out in exchange for room and board. Several WWOOF-USA hosts are located conveniently close to national parks, allowing time for park exploration after the work is done. A past participant called her time as a WWOOFer "life changing."
To become a WWOOFer, just sign up for a membership online ($40 a year) and search the destination you'd like to visit.
The work — and education — includes planting, harvesting, cheese making, livestock handling, milking, and a range of other farm chores. The result: a greater understanding of sustainable organic farming, an unforgettable learning experience, and maybe even some new friends.