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Enjoy state parks for free
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Kim Hatcher, coordinator for Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites, talks about Free Day in the Parks.

With 63 state parks and historic sites dotting Georgia's landscape, chances are there's one within an hour's drive of you.

And for the first time this Saturday, Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites is holding Free Day in the Parks, when all parking fees and admission fees to historic sites will be waived as part of its Get Outdoors Georgia campaign.

Kim Hatcher, public affairs coordinator for Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites, said all parking fees for state parks, usually $3 to $4, will be waived for the day. Once in the park, visitors will still be required to pay for services such as using swimming areas with lifeguards and enjoying activities requiring the use of park equipment.

Hatcher said the campaign aims to get children and adults off the couch and into the great outdoors.

According to a 2007 report from the Trust for America's Health, Georgia was one of the most overweight states in the nation, ranking 14th for adult obesity and 12th for overweight children. More than 16 percent of the state's youth are overweight or obese. In addition, Georgia has the 13th highest inactivity rate of all states in the country, with 25.9 percent of residents engaging in little or no aerobic activity.

"It's true children today do not have an appreciation of nature like previous generations," Hatcher said. "Most kids, the only time they spend outdoors is in organized team sports. That doesn't leave much time for chasing bugs, watching the clouds roll by or using their imagination."

Hatcher said the free parking day aims to lure state residents to Amicalola Falls State Park and Lodge, which features the tallest cascading waterfall east of the Mississippi River. Watson Mill Bridge State Park boasts sparkling waters under the longest covered bridge in Georgia. Vogel State Park is one of the state's oldest parks, and visitors can enjoy the beaches of its 22-acre lake.

"This weekend will be hot so the swimming beaches are a good option," Hatcher said.

"A great place near the Gainesville area people might not know about is Smithgall Woods near Helen," she said. "They have great fly fishing and an upscale lodge there."

Hatcher said reservations are required for fly fishing to ensure a quality trout fishing experience for everyone.

If you can't venture to state parks this weekend, Hatcher said the Get Outdoors Georgia campaign and its free access doesn't have to end Saturday.

Just this month, Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites has teamed up with all of Georgia's public libraries to provide a loan program to library patrons. The program provides passes for free parking as well as historic site passes for one free admission that can be checked out for seven days like a library book.

"Even if it weren't a free day, it'd still be affordable," Hatcher said. "We want the parks to be accessible to all families."