Veterans and Gold Star families will soon be able to access the country's national parks, wildlife refuges and other public lands for free for the rest of their lives. The program starts on a fitting day — Veterans Day.
"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," Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt said in a statement last month.
Starting Wednesday, entrance fees for national parks and wildlife refuges, in addition to "standard amenity fees (day use fees) at national forests and grasslands, and at lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers," will be waived for veterans and Gold Star families, according to the National Park Service.
The program gives veterans and Gold Star families access to about 2,000 public areas sitting on over 400 million acres of public lands across the country, according to the department release.
To start exploring for free, veterans simply need to present a proper form of identification, such as a Department of Defense Identification Card or Veteran ID Card, at national parks that charge entrance fees. Gold Star family members must bring a printed and signed voucher to present to a park ranger or place on their vehicle's dashboard.
The free access extends to others traveling with the veterans and Gold Star families, with some restrictions. Others traveling in the same car as the veteran or voucher-holder or three additional people over the age of 16 can also get in for free, according to the release.
The National Park Service said free access to parks and other public lands will "continue indefinitely," unless the order is "amended, superseded, or revoked."
The program is an extension of the America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass Program, which already offers free access to current U.S. military members, as well as Reserve and National Guard members and their dependents through its annual Military Pass.
There are also free or discounted America the Beautiful passes available to adults age 62 or over, volunteers and people with permanent disabilities, in addition to an Annual Pass available to all for the price of $80.
But, you don't need a pass to visit for free on Veterans Day — in fact, any visitor can get into a national park that charges admission without even taking their wallets out. The holiday is one of the National Park Service's "fee-free days."
Some of the country's national parks closed or modified their offerings this spring due to the coronavirus pandemic, with many reopening, at least in a limited capacity, since.