Free Passes ‘Sell Out’ at 49 California State Parks During Unprecedented #OptOutside Campaign

"What better way to walk off holiday meal?” Many opt to steer clear of the malls on Black Friday.

While economists predicted a strong Black Friday shopping day, it’s likely the malls were a little less crowded in California, thanks to the unprecedented move by a San Francisco nonprofit agency dedicated to protecting redwood trees.

The Save the Redwoods League offered free passes to 49 state parks in California for the first time this year.  And by Friday, all the parks had run out of the freebies, after 5,100 people downloaded the passes, which were first announced on Nov. 18, according to spokeswoman Jennifer Benito.

“We were completely overwhelmed,” Benito said, who forgot to download a pass herself, but was happy to pay a park entrance fee as she too, planned to go hiking with her family. “We’re excited about the enthusiasm.”

There was no way to immediately know how many visitors showed up at all the state parks on Friday, including those who paid the entrance fees.Those numbers will likely be tallied early next week.

Still, there was a buzz surrounding the #OptOutside movement.

Diana Kotake of Newark and a friend were out in Henry Cowell Redwood State Park in Felton, spending the day getting fresh air and taking selfies and nature photos. "My hike was so perfect today," she said.

Mike Kahn, a spokesman for the Sempervirens Fund in Los Altos, which focuses on protecting land in the Santa Cruz Mountains, also was at the same park. He was proud to be out “supporting the movement and opportunity to connect with nature and family and friends."

He asked: "What better way to walk off holiday meal?”

Nick Hansen, 31, of Walnut Creek decided to take a 12-mile bike ride to Mt. Diablo State Park. "I saw the traffic at Sun Valley Mall and thought, 'No way,' " he said. "There's nothing we want to buy anyway."

Save the Redwoods had long wanted to offer such a deal, but was motivated to put it into action after REI announced in October the company would pay employees across the United States to take the day off and go outdoors on what is billed as one of the biggest shopping days of the year. An anonymous donation of $50,000 enabled the nonprofit to pay for the free passes, so that the state park system didn't suffer any financial losses, Benito said.

Missouri, Minnesota and the East Bay Regional Park District in Alameda and Contra Costa counties also sponsored free Friday passes, as well.

Benito and her family had plans to head out to Wilder Ranch State Park in Santa Cruz or Portola State Park in La Honda to scope out sites to possibly dedicate to her husband’s grandparents.

Benito has never been a Black Friday shopper and shopping has never been a post-Thanksgiving tradition for her.

“We go outside every year,” she said. “I just can’t do it Those lines. That’s not how I want to spend my time.”

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