Thursday, April 21, 2011

Free Parking! Go With the Pass!

Charlotte Canelli is library director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood. Read her column each week in the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

I love to save money. Years ago I never grocery shopped without coupons. These days I can’t seem to keep them organized unless I cut them from the Sunday papers and run immediately with them to the local grocery stores or pharmacies. My husband is a big fan of Big Y’s savings coins and he’s never prouder than when he presents me with bouquets of flowers he’s purchased at a third of the cost. Several vases often overflow in our kitchen and he basks in the smell of huge savings while I pretend that he is being purely romantic.

I scour the Internet for online coupons for purchases from my favorite catalogs. My proudest moments are those when I manage free shipping and more than 75% discounts from some of my favorite clothing catalogs like Coldwater Creek and Chico’s. Whatever I’m buying, I always Google online discounts and more than half the time I find some kind of discount or free shipping offer.

More often, though, I like to save when we eat out at restaurants at least one night a week. I’ve become a huge fan of Groupon and Open Table and other online websites that offer 50% or more discounts at some of my favorite local restaurants. The catch is that you pay upfront and you must remember to use the savings coupons. Recently, Gerry and I got a check that was so low that we thought the server had made a mistake because it included our initial online payment.

Library passes are one of the best-kept secrets for savings. These library passes are often funded by Friends of the library groups or other groups in the community and they offer huge savings for those who reserve them.

The Morrill Memorial Library has discounted passes to museums and parks in the area and these include the Museum of Science, the Boston Aquarium, the Museum of Fine Arts and seven others such as the Franklin Park Zoo. Parents and grandparents often book these passes weeks in advance to save big for their families.

One of my favorite passes is the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) Parks Pass which provides free parking at many of the local state parks. These passes can save the borrower anywhere from $2 to $9 at the ocean beaches. Let’s face it, parking costs are usually annoying and there is nothing better on a family outing than to avoid grumbling. The passes provide unlimited day-use parking at any of the parks that charge a fee. The ParksPass is a plastic tag that hangs from your rearview window and it is good year-round. It can be checked out for the entire weekend so be sure to reserve it early.

There are state parks that charge parking in eastern Massachusetts and most of them, obviously, are the state’s beaches. If you travel north you might find Nantasket beach a welcome relief on a summer’s day. This destination has been a favorite for over a century and a half and it is home of the historic Paragon Carousel. A bit further up you’ll find the Lynn Shore and Nahant Beach Reservation where there are periodic interpretive programs including some in marine biology and natural history. Even further north is Salisbury Beach near the New Hampshire border.

Myles Standish State Forest is a local treasure. It stretches across parts of Plymouth and Carver and it is the “largest publicly-owned recreation area in southeastern Massachusetts.” It boasts miles of paved biking trails, equestrian trials and hiking trails through pine forests. There are sixteen ponds and several camping areas. The DCR pass is good for free parking at College Pond. There are interpretive walks along the ponds and cranberry bogs in the summer.

Demarest Lloyd State Park in Dartmouth is unknown to many Massachusetts residents. A perfect family spot, there is an 1800-foot beach with warm summer temperatures. Whether it is walking, bird watching, wave-splashing or picnicking, this beach is a great destination for families and is open Memorial Day through Labor Day. You’ll save the $7 parking fee with the pass.

Other beaches included in the DCR ParksPass are the South Cape Beach in Mashpee, Scusset Beach in Sandwich, Horseneck Beach in Westport Point and Watson Pond State Park in Taunton.

If it's nature you’re after instead of ocean or pond waters, there are many other state parks to explore. Hopkinton State Park and Cochituate are close by. Bradley Palmer and Pearl Hill state parks are further afield but great family outings for a day. Walden Pond and Great Brook Farm are closer by in Concord and Carlisle. They are wonderful historical trips through Massachusetts history. In the summer you can swim in Walden Pond or walk the trails that inspired Henry David Thoreau. At Great Brook Farm in Carlisle there are over 20 miles of trails for walker, hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders and these become cross-country skiing trails in the winter.

There are many more parks in Massachusetts that offer free parking with the pass in the nearby Blackstone Valley or further west along the Mohawk Trail, Connecticut River Valley and in the Quabbin District. Visit the DCR site or the Museum Pass link on the library’s website,, for more information and be sure to explore a park in our wonderful state. Please visit the Morrill Memorial Library in person or call the Information Desk for help with placing a request for the Massachusetts State ParksPass or any library pass to local museums, zoos and parks.