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Wisconsin libraries partners on day passes to state parks
With Wisconsin DNR
Free state park day passes

DRIFTLESS - With summer upon us, you might be thinking about a trip to the library to pick up some beach reading. But did you know you could also get, well, the beach itself?

That’s because some libraries are letting patrons check out a day pass to the state park of their choice. The program is called—surprise!—Check Out Wisconsin Parks At Your Library, and it’s designed to help folks get out and experience Wisconsin’s extensive state park system.

Area libraries participating in the program include Gays Mills, Soldiers Grove, Dodgeville and Prairie du Chien. But each library will be rolling out the program a little differently, as the funding sources for the park passes varies.

Funding explained

The program began as a small pilot last year and is a collaboration between the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Wisconsin Library Association, and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

For this year’s expanded program, the organizations pulled funding together from a variety of sources to underwrite the cost of the day passes. To distribute the passes throughout the state, the DNR held a lottery, and 84 libraries received the free passes.

The Gays Mills and Dodgeville libraries were among those 84. Gays Mills librarian David Gibbs reported that the program is up and running at that location. Staff at Dodgeville explained that the program there will launch in August, to allow the librarians to focus on their pre-existing summer programming.

To participate, you must go to the library and present your library card. The day passes can only be used on a vehicle with Wisconsin plates.

In addition to the subsidized program, the DNR gave libraries the thumbs up to purchase day passes out their individual budgets to offer to patrons. The Soldiers Grove and Prairie du Chien libraries were among the 62 libraries that did so.

For libraries that paid out of pocket, the distribution of passes isn’t a straightforward first-come first served.

“We bought 10 of them and we’re still deciding exactly how we’re going to hand them out,” said Sarah DiPodiva, director of the Soldiers Grove library. She’ll be rolling out the program in the next few weeks. Prairie du Chien is on the same schedule, and will likely use some type of lottery system to distribute the passes fairly.


In Gays Mills, Gibbs said the park pass program is only the latest attempt to make sure the library is relevant to the needs of local residents. The library hosts author talks and story hours, works with the North Crawford School District on children’s programming, and has an instrument lending library.

On Saturday, June 3, the library is hosting an “instrument petting zoo” to give people a chance to try the instruments first-hand. The event will include an open mic and musical performances by local musicians, and it takes place at 1 p.m. at the Old Oak Inn, Soldiers Grove.

“We’re always exploring ways of reaching people and building community outside of just circulating books and movies,” Gibbs explained.

DiPodiva said the collaboration between public libraries and public parks was a natural fit. “Libraries offer so much with no cost, and the state park system, there’s a cost—but it’s minimal to enjoy the beauty of Wisconsin,” she said.