The United States government is giving our veterans and Gold Star families a reason to spend more time outdoors.
As of Nov. 11, 2020, Veterans Day, the Department of Veterans Affairs has granted these groups free access for life to national parks and forests in the U.S.
“With the utmost respect and gratitude, we are granting Veterans and Gold Star Families free access to the iconic and treasured lands they fought to protect starting this Veterans Day and every single day thereafter,” said Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt.
Veterans can forgo payment for their “America the Beautiful” passes by providing proof of their service in the armed forces or the U.S. National Guard and Reserves. Gold Star families will also be granted the passes, which otherwise cost $80 a year.
With growing concerns over the spread of COVID-19, there’s never been a better time to bug out and enjoy the wilderness.
“Staying physically active is one of the best ways to keep your mind and body healthy,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website reports. “In many areas, people can visit parks, trails, and open spaces as a way to relieve stress, get some fresh air, and stay active.”
To protect yourself and others from COVID-19 while visiting national parks and forests, the CDC suggests people:
– Visit parks that are close to your home
– Check with the park or recreation area in advance to prepare safely
– Use social distancing and avoid crowded parks
– Wear a mask
– Clean hands often
– Stay home if you are sick
Our country’s network of National Parks and Forests comprises “2,000 federal recreation sites spread out across more than 400 million acres of public lands,” NPR reports. There are national parks in 29 states and two U.S. territories. That’s a lot of ground to cover. If you are looking to visit more than one, National Park Trips offers one suggestion for a good place to start.
“The newest national parks are Indiana Dunes which changed its name from ‘National Lakeshore’ to ‘National Park’ on Feb. 15, 2019, and White Sands National Park was upgraded from a national monument Dec. 20, 2019.”
Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.