Every year on Nov. 11, we pay tribute to the brave men and women who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces. Only this year, the federal government is taking that tribute one step further. The U.S. Department of the Interior announced on Tuesday that starting this Veterans Day, all veterans and Gold Star Families can obtain free lifetime passes to America’s public lands.
“We have a sacred obligation to America’s veterans. This new lifetime pass is a small demonstration of our nation’s gratitude and support for those who have selflessly served in the U.S. Armed Forces,” Secretary on the Interior Deb Haaland said earlier this week. “I’m proud the Department of the Interior can provide veterans and Gold Star Families opportunities for recreation, education and enjoyment from our country’s treasured lands.”
The free lifetime Military Passes being offered to veterans are valid across the nation’s federal public lands. Each pass covers entrance fees for a driver and up to three adults at all national parks and wildlife refuges, as well as standard amenity fees at all national forest and grasslands, and at lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers. The passes can be obtained in-person or at the U.S. Geological Survey’s online store. Veterans can present one of the four forms of acceptable ID (Department of Defense ID Card, Veteran Health ID, Veteran ID Card, or veteran’s designation on a state-issued driver’s license or ID card).
Active-duty service members have been eligible to receive these passes since 2012, but legislation that passed last year extends that eligibility to all veterans and immediate family members of service members who died in conflict. The Alexander Lofgren Veterans in Parks Act cleared the Senate last December after passing the House of Representatives by unanimous vote in July. Backcountry Hunters and Anglers was part of a broad coalition of stakeholders that backed the legislation, as it supports the organization’s broader initiative to connect the military community with the nation’s public lands and waters.
“BHA’s Armed Forces Initiative has used this policy to help get more veterans into America’s public wild places 47 times since its inception,” says Trevor Hubbs, coordinator of BHA’s Armed Forces Initiative. “To see this policy codified into law is a huge step forward and demonstrates our obligation as a nation to those who have volunteered to serve our country.”
The bill’s namesake honors former U.S. Army Combat Engineer Alexander Lofgren, who served in Afghanistan before working as a congressional aide for Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ). A frequent user of public lands in the Southwest, Lofgren died tragically in April 2021 while hiking with his girlfriend in Death Valley National Park. Grijalva told reporters that Lofgren was a proponent of the therapeutic value that open spaces, park lands, and wilderness areas have for combat veterans.
“Alex working with us here saw that nature, our open spaces, our state and federal park lands and wilderness areas and public places were therapeutic, that they were important in the reintegrations of veterans back into our civilian life here after they completed their service to the nation, and he was a huge proponent of that,” Grijalva told The Arizona Republic.
The Interior Dept. also reminds America’s public lands users that entrance fees to all National Parks will be waived on Veterans Day.