Military Families Get Free Access to All National Parks for One Year
Got some leave saved up? Got a hankering for travel? This year is possibly the best year ever for military families to explore the beauty of our National Park System.
Normally, a year-long family pass would cost at least $80. But under an intiative announced by the National Park Service in May, the Department is granting access to any of America’s 58 national parks for free to military members and their dependents until May 16, 2014.
How It Works
The National Park Service sells an annual pass, the America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands Annual Pass, for $80. The passes allow the holder and a carload of passengers to pass through to any of the $2,000 sites that charge on a per-vehicle basis. If you go to a park or site that charges per person, the pass allows the servicemember in with three other adults age 16 or over.
Spouse deployed, or otherwise unavailable? Good news: The servicemember sponsor doesn’t have to be present. The program is available to military spouses traveling separately. The program applies to “activated” members of the Guard and Reserves. However, you can’t get in under this particular program as a retiree or veteran. These groups have other opportunities for free or reduced admission, according to National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis, who sites the National Park System’s Access Pass, a free lifetime pass for disabled citizens or U.S. residents. There are also special programs for seniors age 62 and over.
How To Get the Passes
Just show up. With your military ID of course, and IDs for all your dependents, in case you get separated. You can obtain the pass at any National Park Service attraction that charges a fee for entry. The passes will be accepted by the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service and at U.S. Army Corps sites that charge entrance or standard amenity fees.
In a press conference at the Yorktown Battlefield National Park, the site of the decisive battle of the Revolutionary War, Jarvis delineated a deep tradition, connecting military veterans and families and the National Parks. The Park Service preserves and protects a number of historic battlefields, including Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
Jarvis mentioned that many parks were closed to all but active duty military during World War Two, and that the parks underwent extensive upgrades and investments in order to prepare for a flood of returning service members and their families when the war came to an end.
The parks themselves are located throughout the United States, and there are even national parks in American Samoa and the Virgin Islands. The Dry Tortugas Park, home of Fort Jefferson, the country’s largest masonry structure, is located off the Florida Keys. Don’t try to drive there: It’s accessible only by boat or plane.