BY KIM BAER

You'd like to wow your partner with the works for Valentine's Day.

Roses, chocolates, romantic dinners and other luxuries will never go out of style.

But if you want to supplement those classic treats, try something different or have suffered a job loss or other economic hit, never fear.

Here are some ideas for dates that will please sweeties and pocketbooks:

1. PLAY AT THE PARK

Pack a thermos of hot chocolate or a picnic lunch, bundle up and enjoy nature's beauty.

Early risers can watch the sun come up at City Dock on Sophia Street in Fredericksburg.

Non-early birds can spend the afternoon at local parks.

Many Fredericksburg-area parks that are bustling in the summertime are quieter now, offering a peaceful escape from the everyday rush.

Tree branches form a romantic archway at the entrance to Stafford County's Curtis Park, said Di Selby, an administrative assistant at the park.

"It's like lovers' lane just pulling in here," Selby said.

A walk down to Curtis Lake is about a mile round-trip, Selby said, and the park has other nature trails, too.

"It's kind of like the best-kept secret," Selby said of the park in winter. "You can have the whole place to yourselves."

Parking is $3.50 for non-county residents. The park is open from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. For more information, go to co.stafford.va .us/Parks/Index.shtml.

Lake Anna State Park in Spotsylvania County has several hiking trails and two picnic areas, including one by the lake, said Roberta Bennett, an administrative assistant at the park. Parking is $5 on weekends. The park is open from 8 a.m. to sunset.

For more information, go to dcr.virginia.gov/state_parks/lak .shtml.

Try spotting bald eagles together at Caledon Natural Area in King George County. Bring a blanket and a picnic lunch and take Boyd's Hole Trail down to the Potomac River, suggested chief ranger Sammy Zambon. The hike is about 31/2 miles round-trip.

Parking is $3 on weekends. The park is open from 8 a.m. to sunset. For more information, go to dcr.virginia.gov/state_parks/cal.shtml.

2. STROLL THE GROUNDS OF HISTORIC HOMES

Admission to Gari Melchers Home and Studio at Belmont in Stafford is half-price this month, at $5 per adult. The main house is closed, but Melchers' studio and the visitors center are open.

Try the Itty Bitty Belmont scavenger hunt and then have a picnic. Use one of the site's two picnic tables or bring a blanket and scout a spot.

Is giving a ring in your Valentine's plans? Just a hint: Belmont is becoming a popular place to pop the question, according to education coordinator Michelle Dolby.

For more information on Belmont, check out umw.edu/gari_melchers.

Stratford Hall in Westmoreland County has a daily grounds pass for $5 a person. Pack a picnic and stroll the plantation's 18th-century-style gardens.

More adventurous couples can try hiking to the Potomac River overlook, suggested Jim Schepmoes, Stratford's marketing director.

The Silver Beech Trail is rated "difficult" due to steep grades, but ends with a river view from Stratford's cliffs.

The overlook also has picnic tables. For more information, see stratfordhall.org.

3. SKATE FIGURE EIGHTS

Fredericksburg Ice Park in Central Park is holding a Valentine's Day skate on Feb. 14 from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Admission is $8 a person and skate rental is $2 a person. A free carnation will be given out to each couple while supplies last. For more, go to fipskate.com.

4. GAZE AT THE STARS

This suggestion was included in an article on Suite101: Check out a beginner's astronomy book from the library, fill a thermos with hot chocolate and see how many constellations you can identify.

Find a dark spot away from lights, recommended Myron Wasiuta of the Rappahannock Astronomy Club.

The backyard can be just fine if you position yourself away from neighbors' lights.

Give your eyes about 10 minutes to adjust to the dark, Wasiuta suggested. Once your eyes have adjusted, don't look at bright lights or go in or out of your house. Bring out a flashlight to help you see charts or books, but put a piece of red film over the light so it's not too bright.

The Rappahannock Astronomy Club has more suggestions for beginners on its Web site, raclub.org.

Other good resources are skyandtelescope.com and astronomy.com.

5. TAKE A STROLL

Pick up a hot beverage and go window shopping. The region has options to suit every taste and budget.

End the night with cold, sweet treats.

6. WATCH ROMANTIC FILMS

Not up for a night out in the cold? Pick up takeout (no washing dishes on Valentine's Day, please!) and cuddle with your sweetie while watching a great film.

The American Film Institute recently came out with its picks for the "Top 100 Love Stories" on film. The complete list is available at afi.com.

Here are the top 10, in descending order: "Casa- blanca," "Gone With the Wind," "West Side Story," "Roman Holiday," "An Affair to Remember," "The Way We Were," "Doctor Zhivago," "It's a Wonderful Life," "Love Story" and "City Lights."

Some of these picks are admittedly a bit on the happy-never-after side.

For more cheerful romantic fare, consider one of AFI's top romantic comedies: "City Lights," "Annie Hall," "It Happened One Night," "Roman Holiday," "The Philadelphia Story," "When Harry Met Sally," "Adam's Rib," "Moonstruck," "Harold and Maude" and "Sleepless in Seattle."

Kim Baer: 540/834-0656

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