VA State park contest: save on park admission fees
In 2016 the Virginia State Parks (VSP) announced a contest to find the State Parks 80th anniversary geocaches. The system created one such cache in each state park.
This is not the first such contest created by VSP. They also did the same thing for the system's 75th anniversary, and they have created contests based on other themes (Civil War, Tree-mendous, and Blooming). Many of the parks still contain the caches created for prior contests. Chances are VSP will create other contests as time goes on.
The cost of park admission may be one reason why you have not tackled the latest contest. Recently I learned of a way to save a lot of that park admission money.
If you can arrange to enter two or more parks in one day, then you can pay at the first, and that payment will cover the fee at all other state parks on the same day.
Purchase parking at the first park; you will get a receipt or a hangtag to put in your car. Just show your receipt or your hangtag at the later parks, and they will let you in for the day. The fee is sometimes called a parking fee or a day use fee, but the policy is identical: you get in free at other state parks on that same day.
Some state parks are close enough to each other that it is easy to take advantage of this policy.
Shenandoah River and Sky Meadow, both fairly near Front Royal.
Leesylvania and Mason Neck on the Potomac close to I-95 and Woodbridge.
Caledon and Westmoreland, on the Potomac close to VA Rt 3. Both have a lot of caches. Westmoreland is next door to Stratford Plantation, and that too has a lot of caches.
Five parks south and west or Richmond are relatively close together: Pocahontas, Twin Lakes, Sailor's Creek, High Bridge Trail, and Bear Creek Lake. There is no parking fee charged at Sailor's Creek because a public road runs completely through the park. The largest park, Pocahontas, is loaded with caches.
There are two pairs of state parks along I-81 in southwestern Virginia:
Hungry Mother and Grayson Highland are about 50 minutes apart. Hungry Mother is loaded with caches.
Shot Tower and New River Trail are next door to each other, on I-77 a few miles south of I-81. Claytor Lake State Park is about 20 miles north of those two, also along I-81.
Dreamer of Pictures
HI, a followup.
A few VA State parks do not charge admission. These include Tabb Monument and Sailor's Creek Battlefield. Additionally, sometimes the Geocaching Adventure cache is outside of the gate and can be found without paying for admission. For the current contest, this is true at York River and Shot Tower.
If you have a handicapped plate or a handicapped hangtag, then you get free admission to all VA State Parks.
If you plan to visit a state park many times in a year, or many parks in a year, then you can buy a yearlong pass. The current price is $36. I believe it is available at all staffed state parks.
Prizes offered by Virginia State Parks for the current contest: for five 80th anniversary cache finds, a state parks pin. For ten, a state parks ballpoint pen. For twenty, state parks canvas bag with a drawstring and backpack straps. This is what I received, and could change.
The official end of the current Geocaching Challenge contest is the end of the calendar year.
I ran into a situation where one park gatekeeper had never heard of the pay once per day policy. I had to pay for admission there. The fact is that many state park employees are part timers or seasonal, and policy education for them is less than perfect. I have an email from VA State Parks HQ which explicitly confirms the pay once per day policy. I can send you a PDF copy of that email so you can print it.
2017 VSP geocaching adventure theme announced!
Virginia State Parks HQ has announced that the VSP geocaching adventure theme for 2017 is Get LOST: Listen Observe Sense Try.
See the VSP introductory page: http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/geocaching-game
As of 2/14/17, the linked cache list still shows only the 2016 caches, not the new 2017 caches for the new adventure.
I checked five state parks using geocaching.com. None of them have a new VSP 2017 themed cache yet as of 2/14/17.
Since most of the VA State parks charge an admission fee per car, I was interested in ways to save money on those fees.
One obvious way is to pack the car. Pursue the VSP 2017 adventure themed caches with other cachers.
But even solo, it is possible to save a lot of money.
I used a savings method in 2016, known as "pay once per day". This is an official VSP policy, though some of the hired help seems to be unaware of the policy.
If you want to hit multiple parks in a single day, then you pay at the first, and the dated receipt / hangtag from that first admission is your free pass into others on the same day. I did visit three or more VA state parks in one day on at least four occasions in 2016, once on I-81 south of Roanoke, twice west of Richmond, once on I-64 between VA Beach and Richmond, and once in Northern VA. I am fairly sure that, if I got an early start, then I could visit six or seven in one day, west of Richmond where the parks are close together.
After one park turned me down on the "pay once per day" plan, I asked for and got confirmation of the policy in an email from VSP HQ. I can give you a copy of that email if you wish. I printed copies to show to the park gate attendants in 2016.
More recently I learned of another way to save admission fee: you can buy a 12-month pass. This is especially appealing if you want to visit a state park more than once, maybe to overcome a first visit DNF. Some state parks, like Pocahontas, are large and loaded with caches, and you might want to visit on several weekends and make a serious dent in that population.
The 12-month pass fee is $66. Since the average admission fee is about $5, you save money if you visit state parks at least 14 times in 12 months. I visited 24 VA state parks in 2016, and found the 2016 themed adventure caches in 21 of those parks.
If you are 62 years old or older, the pass fee is $36. Break even is about 8 park visits.
If you have handicapped tags, or you are a disabled veteran, you can get a pass for free. Disabled vets get additional financial incentives.
There is a form to fill out for the pass. It is DCR199-036.pdf, and it is available on the VSP web site.
You can submit the form, pay the fee and obtain the pass at any State Park office. Some parks do not have an office: Shot Tower and Tabb Monument, for instance. Tabb Monument and Sailor's Creek do not charge admission. Alternatively, you can send the form and a check for payment to the VSP HQ in Richmond also.
Dreamer of Pictures
Thanks for the update for 2017. We didn't participate in 2016 but it does look fun!
The 2017 list went live around April 1 and can be found here: https://www.geocaching.com/bookmarks/vi ... 1c9b20c5dc
Looks as though some of the caches are having "early adopter" problems (inaccurate coordinates, parks claiming to not participate, etc), but cachers are logging problems and honeychile is making sure to temporarily disable listings while things get straightened.
Seems like a fun adventure for after CAM
On September 24, I completed the VSP geocaching challenge for 2017.
I did not keep track of mileage or gasoline expenses, but it took many weekend day trips and four weekdays of vacation to make all 37 finds. I started with five parks between Richmond and Farmville on April 7. After that productive day, typically I visited 2 or 3 parks per day while pursuing the challenge.
The theme this year was Get L.O.S.T. At several parks, the cache did indeed get lost, i.e., muggled, and in some cases it happened more than once.
I had to visit the following parks twice:
York River (DNF the first time)
Wilderness Road (DNF the first time)
Southwest VA Historical Museum (closes at 4 PM weekdays, and I showed up at 4:30)
Smith Mountain Lake (while I was standing there, a park staffer confirmed the cache was stolen)
While it pays to make careful plans, including checking the mileage between parks, clearly the flexibility to change plans is very valuable.
At Staunton River Battlefield, the cache has been muggled 3 times this year. I may the only person to have found it and signed the log thus far. The cache has also been muggled at Natural Bridge and Smith Mountain Lake.
The Virginia State Parks require reporting the find dates on their web site. They send rewards for finding 5, 10, 20 and all 37 caches. The reward for finding 20 was a pretty cool VSP geocaching teeshirt this year.
Additionally, the VSP offers a challenge called Trail Quest for simply visiting all the state parks. I completed that one also, as a side effect of finding the theme caches. The rewards for 5, 10 and 20 were very nice decorative pins that now reside on my hiking hat.
I do not yet know the reward for finding all 37 caches or visiting all 38 parks (there was no theme cache in Shot Tower this year). However, VSP has sent me an email saying that they want to present the awards at a public ceremony in a park of my choice.
So we will make it a family picnic event, and then find some caches in the park.
In general, the parks are impressive. The most cache-laden are Breaks, with a remarkable 60 caches (I found 19 there) and Pocahontas. The most remote is False Cape, where there is no road for the public into the park, and access is achieved across 4 miles of National Wildlife Refuge on foot, bicycle or on the water. I rented a bike to do that.
Another side effect of this challenge is that I started tracking my finds in Virginia counties. I am now up to 80 of the 95 Virginia counties. On the weekend of September 24 I added Orange, Appomattox and Buckingham counties.
I purchased the annual pass for all Virginia State Parks on April 7, at the senior discount price. Averaged across all 40 park visits, I paid less than $1 per visit. Not a bad deal. And it is good through next March, so I can continue to use it.
It appears that VSP will open another state park on the Potomac near Quantico in 2018. It is the former Widewater Beach, and surrounding land, soon to become Widewater State Park.
Dreamer of Pictures