Starting Wednesday, Veterans Day 2020, veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces and Gold Star families (next of kin to fallen servicemembers) can enjoy a lifetime of free access to national parks, wildlife refuges and federal recreational lands.
U.S. Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt announced this Secretarial Order at the Iowa Gold Star Museum on Oct. 28. “With the utmost respect and gratitude, we are granting veterans and Gold Star Families free access to the iconic and treasured lands they fought to protect starting this Veterans Day and every single day thereafter,” he declared proudly.
Active duty military members and their dependents were already eligible for free America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands annual passes, but this new proclamation now extends that benefit to both military veterans and the families of those who gave their lives in service to our country.
The public can also avail itself of the America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands passes for $80 per year. According to Lonely Planet, the U.S. currently has 419 parks available to visit, only 111 of which charge entry fees. Overall, the pass provides holders with unlimited access to more than 2,000 federal recreation areas found on over 400 million acres of public lands.
Passes cover entrance fees at national parks and wildlife refuges, and standard amenity recreation (day use) fees at national forests and grasslands overseen by the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Reclamation sites. Passes do not include fees for extra activities, such as camping and boat launching. Although, disabled veterans qualify for the Access Pass, which provides various discounts on expanded amenities such as camping, swimming, boat launching and guided tours.
“America’s public lands are among the most beautiful natural wonders in the world, and their importance to Americans has only grown during the ongoing pandemic,” said Sen. Angus King of Maine, a ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks. “America’s Gold Star Families have made unimaginable sacrifices for the safety of our country, and we should do everything possible to help them heal.”
“This initiative will provide American veterans the opportunity to find peace and healing in the outdoors, in addition to discovering the beautiful lands that we sacrificed so much to protect,” said Sean Gobin, executive director of Warrior Expeditions.
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America CEO Jeremy Butler also applauded the implementation of the new order, saying, “Exposure to outdoor recreation can provide a wide range of mental health benefits and, given our nation’s ongoing veteran suicide crisis, this is a welcome step forward using a whole of government approach to improve the lives of veterans.”
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