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This year's State of the County giveaway is ... passports to parks

Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz gave away reusable bags decorated with the county seal at his 2016 State of the County address, when he was pushing an initiative to ban grocery stores and retailers from distributing plastic shopping bags.

This year, he gave out passports.

Not the kind that allows you to cross international borders. Instead, these little green booklets are passports to the Erie County park system.

"We're trying to come up with ideas to get more of the public to come out to our parks," said Commissioner of Parks, Recreation and Forestry Daniel J. Rizzo, who gave the county executive credit for coming up with the idea.

The 30-page parks passport, similar in concept to the passports issued by the National Park Service, devotes one page to each of 18 different county parks. Users who pick up one of these free booklets can go to the county's parks website and get clues to locate a special park code on a sign at each of the listed parks.

"We won't put them in difficult locations," Rizzo said. "We don't want anyone to get injured."

Those who collect the codes from 10 county parks, including five "heritage parks" that offer extensive recreation opportunities, qualify to be certified as "junior park rangers." That entitles them to a special certificate and an invitation to a fall ceremony honoring all 2017 junior park rangers.

Though the county park passports are being given away as freebies to those attending this year's State of the County address at the Burchfield Penney Art Center, the passport program doesn't actually start until May 1. Rizzo said the parks don't yet have the signs up for the codes and they're still finalizing distribution points for the free passport booklets, which can also be printed and downloaded from the website.

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