Veterans Getting Free National Parks Passes Nationwide

by Samantha Whidden
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U.S. military veterans are now able to get free National Park passes nationwide. This is all thanks to an Indiana Dunes National Park employee’s suggestion. 

NWI.com reports that in 2020, former Secretary of Interior, David Bernhardt, visited the Indiana Dunes National Park. During a Q&A session with employees, Indiana Dunes. Fee Program Supervisor, Ryan Koepke asked why there were no free National Parks passes for veterans. 

Following the discussion with Koepke, the Department of the Interior made a recommendation that veterans are to be able to visit any federal-funded National Park through the U.S. for free. Congress then voted to grant veterans, as well as Gold Star families, free visitation in more than 2,000 federal recreational sites. This includes National Parks, National Forests, National Wildlife Refuges, and National Lakeshores (such as Pictured Rock and Sleeping Bear Dunes). 

The media outlet revealed that anyone who has served in the U.S. Armed Forces (including National Guard and Reserves) is no longer needs to pay to enter National Parks. They may provide a Department of Defense Identification Card as well as a Veteran ID card. Active military personnel already qualify for America the Beautiful passes. The passes grant free admission to National Parks such as Yosemite, Yellowstone, Mount Rainer, Acadia, and the Great Smoky Mountains. 

National Park Service Public Affairs Specialist, Kathy Kupper, told the media outlet the Services has issued a total of 321,430 military passes in 2020. This number notably grew to 579,783 in 2021 since both veterans and Gold Star families now qualify for the program. 

Indiana Dunes Supervisory Park Ranger, Bruce Rowe, added the park received positive feedback on the Veteran’s passes. “We have given out 630 Veteran’s passes at the park. I think we will see that number go up in the coming years.”

How Long Will Free Access For Veterans & Gold Star Families Be Available at the National Parks 

According to its website, free access to the National Parks for veterans and Gold Star families will continue indefinitely. The officials also noted that the Gold Star Voucher is valid for one calendar year. “New vouchers for successive years can be obtained by downloading a new voucher and completing the self-certification. Annual Interagency Military passes are valid for one year from the month of issuance.”

The National Parks also explains that the vouchers cover entrance fees at parks and National Wildlife refuges as well as standard amenity fees at National Forests and Grasslands and at lands managed by the National Park Service, the US Fish, and Wildlife Service, the US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation and US Army Corps of Engineers. “Fees still apply for expanded amenities such as camping, tours, and special recreation permits. Reservation fees and fees for organized groups or concession-operated facilities or activities may not be covered by the voucher or Interagency Pass.”

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