Veterans and Gold Star Families will be able to access National Parks free starting November 11.
In a sea of bad news headlines across 2020, there is something positive to report regarding National Parks and Veteran and Gold Star Family access. The Department of the Interior announced access fees for National Parks, Wildlife Refuges and other forms of federal land will be waived for military veterans and Gold Star families.
The announcement was made by Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt on the U.S. Department of the Interior website. It states this new rule will go into effect on Veteran's Day, November 11 and will be permanent forever.
Various senators and veteran's organizations immediately applauded the decision as being a great way to thank servicemen and women.
"Our veterans and Gold Star Families have made incredible sacrifices to defend our freedoms and our homeland. Ensuring that they are able to enjoy all of the natural wonders of the country that they've served is one small way of saying thank you," Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley said in the release.
The hope is that free access to the U.S.'s natural areas and historic sites, many of them being military-related, will help with the difficult healing process for many veterans and their families. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America CEO Jeremy Butler praised the move in the press release.
"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," Butler said.
Team River Runner, an organization dedicated to helping vets heal through paddling and river rafting agreed with this sentiment.
"Wounded and disabled veterans, indeed all veterans and their families, find peace and personal renewal in nature. The opportunity to enjoy American jewels of nature - our National Park system - with free entry into these parks will speak volumes regarding our nation's desire to honor American citizens who sign a "blank check" made payable to the United States of America for an amount up to and including their life," the organization's statement reads.
The release notes that the term veteran applies to anyone who has served in the U.S. Armed Forces, including the National Guard and National Guard Reserves. Veterans wishing to take advantage of this new rule need to present a form of identification. This includes a veteran ID card, veteran health identification card, department of defense identification card or a veteran designation on state issued IDs and driver's licenses.
This new decision builds on the already-established America the Beautiful Program which provides free passes to these same areas for active duty servicemen and women. The press release notes the move will open about 2,000 locations to veterans and their families nationwide to outdoor recreational opportunities for hiking, hunting, fishing, and more.
This news comes the same day the Department of the Interior announced the popular "Every Kid Outdoors Program" that provides fourth graders and their families free access to the NPS system for one year has been expanded to 5th graders through August 2021 to make up for some fourth graders and their families not being able to take advantage in 2020 due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. In some places, popular National Parks like Yellowstone opened later than normal due to safety precautions.