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'It's simply the right thing to do': National parks free for Gold Star families, veterans starting Nov. 11

The Dept. of the Interior adopted Rep. Golden and Sen. King's proposal to make entrance to national parks free for families of fallen service members

WASHINGTON, D.C., USA — Entrance fees in all U.S. national parks and public lands will be waived for Gold Star families and veterans—an idea proposed earlier this year by Maine U.S. Rep. Jared Golden and U.S. Sen. Angus King. 

The U.S. Department of the Interior on Thursday, Oct. 29 announced the adoption of Golden and King's proposal, which will be implemented on Wednesday, Nov. 11.

The bipartisan Gold Star Families Parks Pass Act, first introduced by Golden, D-Maine, and Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., passed through the House as part of the National Defense Authorization Act in July. Sens. King, I-Maine, Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn, and Steve Daines, R-Mont., introduced a companion bill in the Senate.

“Gold Star families deserve our deepest respect and unwavering support. Making our national parks and public lands open to these Americans free of charge is a small but meaningful way to express our gratitude for their sacrifices,” Golden said in a statement Thursday. “I’m pleased that the Department of the Interior will implement my proposal with Senator King nationwide and will build upon it to include all veterans. I’ll continue to work across the aisle to pass our legislation this fall to permanently enshrine these privileges for Gold Star Families into law.”

There are 421 national parks in the U.S. that span across more than 84 million acres, according to the U.S. National Park Service. Entrance fees vary across the country's national parks—many offer season pass options between $35 and $75. Without a pass, regular entry fees average between $25 and $35 per vehicle and roughly $15 to $25 per person.

 Active duty members of the military, including activated members of the National Guard and Reserves, and their families already are able to get free annual passes to national parks. Disabled veterans can get a free lifetime pass as well. 

“America’s Gold Star Families have made unimaginable sacrifices for the safety of our country, and we should do everything possible to help them heal,” King, ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, said in a release.

“America’s public lands are among the most beautiful natural wonders in the world, and their importance to Americans has only grown during the ongoing pandemic," King continued. "The families of those who’ve lost a loved one in defense of our nation should be able to have access to these treasures free of charge. I’m grateful that today’s order will open these lands, and hopeful that my legislation with Congressman Golden will pass through Congress soon so this initiative will be enacted into law. This is not complicated – it’s simply the right thing to do.”

David MacDonald, president of Friends of Acadia, applauded the effort to increase access to parks. In a statement, MacDonald said, “Acadia and all our National Parks have always been wellsprings of inspiration and solace for the American people. We applaud this effort to increase access to the restorative powers of nature, and the touchstones of our shared cultural heritage for Gold Star Family Members who have endured the hardships and heartaches associated with the sacrifices made by their loved ones to defend this country.”

Earlier this year, President Donald Trump signed The Great American Outdoors Act into law—legislation that will devote nearly $3 billion annually to conservation projects, outdoor recreation, and maintenance of national parks and other public lands. The measure was overwhelmingly approved by Congress. 

The bill was introduced by Rep. Jared Golden (D-Maine) and 11 other members of Congress in June and co-sponsored by Maine Sen. Susan Collins. It also included legislation from Sen. Angus King.