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Your Local Library Has Books, Movies—and Maybe a Backpack for You to Borrow

At public libraries in Washington and Colorado, members can check out a state park pass—and even gear—for their next trip.

With the cost of trail and facility upkeep rising, park entrance fees are rising too. While the proceeds keep our public lands in good condition, they also add another financial barrier to getting outside for underserved groups. Luckily, in at least two states there’s now another option: checking out a park pass from the public library.

Colorado’s Check Out State Parks program and Washington state’s Check Out Washington program loan out state park passes and Discover passes, respectively, to public library members. In Colorado the pass also comes with a backpack filled with park brochures, educational materials, a list of suggested activities, and a pair of binoculars. The Colorado pass gives the holder access to 42 different parks across the state, while Washington’s Discover Pass is good at over 1,000 state parks, water access points, primitive recreation sites, and wildlife areas.

The Washington program is relatively new: It started with four libraries in 2019, then expanded to almost 200 in 2020 after the pilot program proved successful. In 2021 the program is growing again, with funding for Discover Passes at any library across the state that requests them. The Colorado program has proved equally successful, with 7, 692 pass checkouts in 2019 alone. In a survey afterward, 99% of the patrons who checked out a pass said they would recommend visiting a state park, and 79% said they would buy a day pass to visit one of the parks again.

Ready to explore public lands in Colorado or Washington? Grab your public library card, check out a pass (and maybe a guidebook too), and head out.