Active-duty military now can see America the Beautiful for free

Vernal Falls in Yosemite National Park. Vernal Falls in Yosemite National Park. Gosia Wozniacka/AP

Active-duty service members and their families will be able to visit the country’s national parks and wildlife refuges for free under a new federal program.

Jill Biden and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Monday announced the initiative to waive entrance fees and other costs associated with more than 2,000 federal recreation sites for active-duty military and their dependents. Service members can obtain the free America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass at agency fee stations across the country by showing their military identification card.

Service members’ families also are eligible to receive their own free pass so they can visit national parks such as Yosemite, Acadia and Everglades without the service member present. “If families are traveling separately, then I would recommend that they each have their own pass,” said Jon Jarvis, director of the National Park Service, during a conference call with reporters Monday.

The passes, which are available to the general public for $80, are good for a year and active-duty service members will be able to renew them for free again after the year expires, Jarvis said.

The free pass is available only to those on active duty and their dependents. There are other opportunities and discounts related to the America the Beautiful pass available to veterans, said Jarvis.

Jarvis said the Park Service estimated it will lose between $2 million and $6 million in annual revenue as a result of the program. The agency collects about $150 million in revenue nationwide every year. “We don’t think this amount of decrease will be significant to the operations of the service,” Jarvis said.

Salazar is traveling to Yorktown, Va., on Tuesday to participate in an official ceremony promoting the initiative and will hand out free passes to members of all five armed services as part of the event. The free pass will be available to those eligible on May 19, Salazar said. It’s an opportunity for service members and their families to “unwind, heal, rejuvenate and have fun,” Salazar said during the conference call.

The announcement came during 2012 Armed Forces Week. Biden and first lady Michelle Obama have made increasing opportunities and benefits for military personnel and their families a top priority.

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