Back in 2012, the National Park Service (NPS) started giving active-duty military members and their dependents free access to all national parks and other public lands managed by federal agencies. Now, as NPR reports, the NPS has expanded that access to all military veterans and Gold Star families (immediate relatives of military members who have lost their lives in the line of duty).
It’s an auspicious time to enact such a policy. Not only is tomorrow Veterans Day, but today is the 245th anniversary of the establishment of the U.S. Marines on November 10, 1775. The gesture also serves as a reminder of the historical links between national parks and the military itself. As the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs explained in a blog post, the 1st U.S. Cavalry patrolled and protected Yellowstone National Park before the NPS was founded to carry out such tasks, and Minute Man National Historical Park in Concord, Massachusetts, covers the area where the American Revolution began in April 1775. In fact, many national parks and monuments were created to commemorate the contributions of U.S. military members.
“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,” Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt said in a statement.
To gain free lifetime access, veterans (including those of the National Guard and Army Reserves) can show their Department of Defense Identification Card, Veteran Health Identification Card, Veteran ID Card, or state-issued ID with a veteran's designation upon arrival, and any entrance fee will be waived. Gold Star families can do the same by printing and filling out this voucher [PDF]. Find out more about how the program works here.
If you’re not an active or former member of the U.S. military, you can still visit a national park for free on Veterans Day and certain other special days throughout the year. Or, you can purchase an $80 “America the Beautiful” pass that grants you access to all parks for an entire year.