Free fun for Presidents Day weekend

Doreen Christensen
Contact ReporterSouth Florida Sun-Sentinel
Get free entry at Everglades National Park for Presidents Day weekend.

It's a BOGO!

This long weekend we're celebrating two holidays with Valentine's Day on Saturday and Presidents Day on Monday.

For a change, I'm suggesting we forgo shopping and sales and get out and enjoy some free fun in the South Florida sun.

In honor of Presidents Day, the U.S. park service is waiving $5-$10 entry fees Saturday through Monday at Everglades National Park in Homestead and at all national parks across the country.

It's forecast to be cool and sunny, so do Teddy Roosevelt proud and visit at the 1.5 million-acre playground right in our backyard.

It's the least you can do to honor our conservation-minded 26th president. He had the foresight to protect our public lands, laying the groundwork for the National Park Service, which was established in 1916.

It was America's best idea.

Today, there are 405 national parks and countless monuments, federal lands, forests and recreation areas for us, and future generations, to enjoy.

One of my favorite things to do each winter is visit the Everglades. Good weather and the dry season keep the bugs away, and that makes it an ideal time to explore this unique subtropical wilderness.

The park service has special programs planned, from archaeology lectures to a citizen scientist "Big Birding Day Adventure" and bluegrass concert.

See a roundup of scheduled events on my Shop-O-Matic blog at SunSentinel.com/Everglades. Or, for more info, go to NPS.gov/ever or call 305-242-7700.

In Shark Valley, which is off the Tamiami Trail in Miami, you can bike or take a narrated tram ride along the 15-mile loop. (Bike rentals are available; tram rides cost extra.) I've done both, and they're a blast. From the tram, my sons once counted more than 120 alligators sunning themselves on the roadway.

Down at the main entrance in Homestead, stop at the Ernest Coe Visitor Center to learn more about this spectacular ecosystem, which provides the lifeblood of South Florida: Water.

At the nearby Royal Palm Visitor Center, you can join in a 10:30 a.m. daily ranger-led tour down the Anhinga Trail, which is an easy amble through the sawgrass marsh on a raised boardwalk. You'll spot loads of migratory wading birds such as herons, cormorants, gallinules and nesting Anhinga, and, of course, alligators and crocs.

Down the road, pay homage to President John F. Kennedy by exploring the historic Cold War Nike Missile Base. Fascinating tours of the former U.S. Army site, complete with missiles, are at 2 p.m. daily through March. Tours leave from the Dan Beard Research Center. No reservations are necessary.

Fee-free days are great for us whippersnappers, but those at least 62 years old don't need to wait until the next one comes along on April 18-19.

Gain free access for up to four people to 2,000 national parks, wildlife refuges, federal recreation sites and national forest lands with an Interagency Senior Pass for $10 at park headquarters or $20 by mail. Go to SunSentinel.com/SeniorPass.

While you're down south, consider a side trip to go strawberry picking. It's peak season now and you'll get 'em cheaper than any other time of year.

I suggest a pit stop at Knaus Berry Farm in Homestead.

The family-owned U-pick at 15980 SW 248th St. has been selling homemade jam, jellies, baked goods and yummy strawberry shakes for more than 55 years. The yeasty cinnamon buns, sold warm and dripping with icing, are to die for. The whole strawberry field behind the bakery smells of cinnamon buns.

Knaus Berry Farm (Knausberryfarm.com, 305-247-0668) is open daily except Sundays.

If you're not up for a long trek south, there's bushels of berries to be had at Bedner's Farm in Boynton Beach (Bedners.com, 561-733-5490).

This special spot, open daily at 10066 Lee Road, off State Road 7, is one of the last family-run farms in Palm Beach County. (The Girls Strawberry U-Pick in Delray Beach only has tomatoes this year.)

Bedner's 80 acres of fields are overflowing with strawberries, tomatoes and peppers. The sunflower fields will open in March. There's also a petting zoo, pony and hay rides, and good eats

Shop in the 10,000-square-foot farmer's market, where the food travels a whole 100 feet from the field to the store, as owner Steve Bedner likes to say.

No matter which way you travel, here's to a berry nice, two-holiday weekend.

What's your deal? Email dchristensen@tribpub.com or go to Facebook.com/DoreensDeals.

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