Servicemembers, Families, can get free
pass to national parks
|WASHINGTON, D.C. — Servicemembers and their Families
will be able to enter all of America’s national parks free of charge for
a year under an initiative announced May 15.
The pass — the America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal
Recreation Lands Annual Pass, which normally costs $80 — became
available to servicemembers and their dependents on Armed Forces Day,
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar made the announcement, along with
National Park Service (NPS) Director Jon Jarvis, at a ceremony at
Colonial National Historical Park in Yorktown, Va., the site of the last
major battle of the Revolutionary War.
The area surrounding the park hosts installations from all the military
services, including the world’s largest naval base.
“I think when one goes into Virginia and you see all the sites, the
Yorktown battlefield and the whole history of the country, it’s
important that those who have fought in the tradition of making sure the
nation’s democracy and freedom are protected also have access to these
wonderful sites there,” Salazar said in a conference call with
The passes allow the holder and passengers in a single private vehicle
access to some 2,000 sites that charge per vehicle. At sites where
entrance fees are charged per person, it covers the pass owner and three
adults age 16 and older.
The NPS estimates that giving away the passes to servicemembers and
their Families will result in a revenue loss between $2 million and $6
million, but Jarvis said that won’t cause a significant impact on the
agency, which collects about $150 million in fees each year.
Military personnel can get the passes at any national park or wildlife
refuge that charges an entrance fee by showing their military ID. Family
members also will be able to obtain their own pass, even if the
servicemember is deployed or if they are traveling separately.
The pass will be accepted at NPS, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau
of Reclamation, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and U.S.
Army Corps sites that charge entrance or standard amenity fees.
The free pass will be made available for activated members of the
National Guard and reserves, but not for military veterans or retirees,
whom Jarvis said have other opportunities for free or reduced admission,
such as the NPS “Access Pass” or a seniors pass for those 62 and older.
Jarvis, a 40-year Park Service employee, said that while the free passes
are a first, they are representative of the parks’ history with the
military, which dates back to the Buffalo Soldiers’ battles with Native
Americans in the mid-1800s and the recruitment of former military
members to serve as park rangers under the first NPS director, Stephen
T. Mather. The Park Service maintains many military historical sites
from Gettysburg to Pearl Harbor, and in World War II even closed some
parks, such as Mount Rainier in Washington state, to all but active
military members, he said.
Right after World War II, the Park Service invested heavily in
infrastructure to prepare the parks for returning service members,
Today’s generation of warriors also deserves a deep connection to the
parks, he said.
“From my perspective, it is incredibly important to return this group of
returning military members to their national parks,” Jarvis said.
“Nothing is more core to the American experience than the national
parks. These are places for quiet and contemplation and to reconnect to
the American experience. And we don’t want there to be any barriers to
The free pass initiative is part of the “Joining Forces” campaign First
Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden,
launched last year to rally Americans around supporting servicemembers
and their Families.
“Our nation owes a debt of gratitude to our servicemen and women who
make great sacrifices to protect our country and preserve our freedom,”
Dr. Biden said in a White House statement. “In recognition of their
service, we are so pleased to be putting out a welcome mat for our
military Families at America’s most beautiful and storied sites.”