Starting on Nov. 11, 2020, Veterans Day, every U.S. military veteran and Gold Star family in the United States will have free access to national parks, wildlife refuges and other federal lands managed by the Department of the Interior.
“The Trump Administration is committed to honoring American patriots – the men and women who have served in our armed forces,” said David Bernhardt, United States Secretary of the Interior. “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 Veteran’s Day and every single day thereafter.”
Both entrance fees and standard amenity fees charged by the Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Reclamation will be waived for veterans and Gold Star families, giving them free access to more than 2,000 locations.
“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,” said U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (IA). “I’m glad to join Secretary Bernhardt here in Iowa today at the Gold Star Military Museum for this historic announcement.”
Spread out across more than 400 million acres of public lands, the various locations managed by the United States Department of the Interior gives families an incredible array of options for any range of activities. Public lands have been popular destinations for hiking, fishing, paddling, biking, hunting, stargazing and more.
“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,” said U.S. Senator Angus King (ME), Ranking Member of Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks. “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.
The families of those who’ve lost a loved one in defense of our nation should be able to have access to these treasures free of charge. I’m grateful that [this] order will open these lands, and hopeful that my legislation with Congressman Golden will pass through Congress soon so this initiative will be enacted into law. This is not complicated—it’s simply the right thing to do.”
In addition to natural wonders, today's Department-managed lands also protect historic sites associated with American history, ranging from frontier forts to Civil War battlefields to Cold War sites and more. In addition, the parks also protect national cemeteries and memorials that pay tribute to the veterans who fought throughout American history.
“Our veterans, fallen service members, and their loved ones have made tremendous sacrifices to protect our freedoms, and we are forever grateful for their selfless service to our nation,” said U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (IA), a combat veteran. “I applaud the Trump Administration for giving back to our veterans and Gold Star Families by granting them free access to America’s beautiful national parks and federal lands that our brave men and women in uniform fought to protect.”
For the purposes of the program, a U.S. military veteran is any individual who has served in the United States Armed Forces, including the National Guard or Reserves, and is able to present one of the following forms of identification: Department of Defense ID Card, Veteran Health Identification Card (VHIC), Veteran ID Card or a Veteran's designation on a state-issued driver's license or ID card.
Gold Star families are the next-of-kin of a member of the United States Armed Forces who lost his or her life in a "qualifying situation," such as a war, international terrorist attack or military operation outside of the United States while serving with the United States Armed Forces.
"I would like to express my great appreciation to the Department of the Interior for building on the success of the America the Beautiful - National Parks & Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass for military families and extending the benefit to Gold Star Families and to those who have served in support of our nation, in part, to secure these treasured lands," Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America CEO Jeremy Butler said. "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."
The inter-agency America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass program already provides a free annual pass for active-duty members of the U.S. military and their dependents. Free or discounted passes to national parks are available for people with permanent disabilities, fourth-grade students, volunteers and senior citizens aged 62 years or older.
The U.S. Department of the Interior also provides free entrance days for everyone throughout the year, including on the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., National Public Lands Day, Veterans Day and the signing date of the Great American Outdoors Act.