Veterans get free access to federal lands – for life

U.S. military veterans and Gold Star families now have free access to national parks, wildlife refuges and other federal lands used for hunting and recreation, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced Tuesday.

“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,” Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said in a news release.

Gold Star families are those whose relatives have died in a conflict while serving in the armed forces.

Active-duty service members and their dependents already were eligible for free annual passes to federal recreational lands. Now, entrance and standard amenity fees will be waived for veterans who show identification from the Department of Defense or the Department of Veterans Affairs, or a state-issued ID with a veteran designation.

The Interior Department said veterans and Gold Star families also will have free access to some lands and waters managed by the Forest Service, a part of the Department of Agriculture, and some managed by the Army Corps of Engineers.

A seven-day pass for a single vehicle in Glacier National Park normally costs $35 in the summer. Free or discounted passes also are available for people with permanent disabilities, fourth-grade students, volunteers and citizens ages 62 and older. The National Park Service waives fees for all visitors on Veterans Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day and National Public Lands Day.

The Interior Department said many of the sites under its control – including frontier forts, Cold War sites, battlefields, national cemeteries and memorials – have historical connections to the military. It noted, for example, that the Army’s 1st Cavalry Regiment protected Yellowstone National Park against poaching and vandalism in the late 1800s before the National Park Service was established.

MEANWHILE, THE Senate on Tuesday passed a bill that aims to expand therapeutic and recreational programs for veterans on federal lands.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nevada, introduced the “Accelerating Veterans Recovery Outdoors Act” along with Sen. Steve Daines, R-Montana, while an identical bipartisan bill moved through the House.

Once signed by the president, the legislation will create a task force including the secretaries of the Interior, Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Defense and Homeland Security, as well as the chief of the Army Corps of Engineers.

“In Montana, we know how important our outdoor heritage is to our Montana way of life,” Daines said in a statement, adding that the task force will “help ensure Montana veterans are able to take full advantage of our outdoors as they recover from the trauma and injuries they experienced in combat. The therapeutic benefits our public lands can have on our veterans will help aid in their recovery and highlight the beauty of the country they so valiantly served to defend.”