By Marguerite Cleveland
On Veteran’s Day, November 11, 2020, the National Park Service partnered with Operation Live Well launched a free access program as a way to thank America’s Gold Star Families and U.S. military veterans for their service and to encourage healthy living by enjoying our nation’s public lands and waters. The U.S. Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt signed an order that grants free access to national parks, wildlife refuges, and other sites managed by the Department of the Interior. It also includes lands and waters managed by the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It is more than 2,000 sites. Active duty military and their families will continue to have access through the America the Beautiful Pass system currently in place.
A veteran is an individual who served in the U.S. Armed Forces including the National Guard and Reserves. You must have one of the following forms of identification: Department of Defense Identification Card (CAC Card), Veteran Health Identification Card (VHIC), Veteran ID Card, or a Veterans designation on a state-issued U.S. driver’s license or identification card.
Gold Star Families are the next of kin of a service member of the U.S. Armed Forces who lost his or her life during a war, an international terrorist attack, or a military operation outside of the United States. The Gold Star Family members access the parks by presenting a voucher to the ranger or place in the vehicle dashboard at unstaffed site. Download the voucher.
Both veterans and Gold Star Families access includes traveling companions who travel in one vehicle or if individual fees are charged it includes the passholder and three people.
What is Covered
There is no cost to participate in the program. Participants receive free entrance fees at national parks, wildlife refuges as well as free day use fees at national forests, grasslands and at lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.
Camping, tours, special permits or concession-operated facilities such as lodging or food venders and activities such as horseback riding are not covered by this program.
The program will continue indefinitely unless the order is amended or revoked.
To make the most out of your passes visit the National Park Service online. They have devoted a whole section on the American Military . There are so many interesting features:
Did you know there are over 400 national park sites located near VA facilities? Check out the interactive map and find your VA destination. Each location lists information on nearby parks and links to the websites.
Are you a military history buff? Check out American Military Heritage . The National Park Service preserves battlefields, military parks and historic sites around the country.
The National Park Service is benefiting from the Veterans Trade and Apprenticeship Program which trains veterans to learn preservation trades. It gives them the opportunity to continue to serve their country by serving and preserving national parks.
Did you know you receive a veteran’s preference if you want to work for the National Park Service? They employ over 4,000 veterans which is more than 20% of the workforce.
The holidays are a great time to get out and explore a national park and with free admission for Gold Star Families and veterans you can visit more than one.