Editor’s note: This article by Jim Absher originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.
A provision of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) will give Gold Star families free access to public lands across the country.
The "America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass" has an $80 annual price tag for most Americans.
Now, Gold Star families, defined as those who lost a family member in war, an international terrorist attack, or a military operation outside of the United States, will also be eligible for the free admission pass.
The pass gives free access to the holder of the Gold Star Family pass as well as up to three passengers per vehicle 16 years and older. Children under 16 are admitted for free.
While active duty military members and their dependents have had free access to National Parks for several years, and disabled veterans qualify for the free Access Pass, there has been confusion about exactly who is and isn't eligible for the programs, with enforcement and rules sometimes varying by location.
But a wave of new legislation and park policy has clarified the program over the last several months. In November, Interior Department officials announced that the free pass program would extend to all veterans and Gold Star family members. Early this month the president signed into law a rule granting the pass to disabled veterans. And, once signed by President Donald Trump, the change included in the NDAA will move from park policy to law the free pass for Gold Star families.
While not all of our nation's 2,000 public recreation areas charge entrance fees, many of the more popular destinations such as Yellowstone National Park and Grand Canyon National Park charge an admission price of up to $35 per vehicle.
Besides giving free admission to all National Parks, the pass also holders free admission to other participating Department of the Interior agencies as well as sites administered by the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The National Park Service has already begun issuing the free passes under their November policy change. Interested Gold Star families can download the application online.
The program does not cover expanded amenity fees such as camping, tours, special recreation permits or organized groups or concession-operated facilities or activities.
Many states also offer free access to public lands for military members, veterans and Gold Star families. In many cases you don't even need to be a state resident to get free access. See what your state offers.