The United States of America–arguably the most diverse country in the world, from the “melting pot” population to “the Redwood Forest” and “the Gulf Stream waters”– is making a special offer to an honorable group of Americans. Many patriots love their country, but no one risks as much, and potentially gives as much, as the brave members of the U.S. military. It is perhaps for this reason that they, and their dependents, are being given a free annual U.S. military parks pass to The Forest Service, the National Park Service, plus Fish and Wildlife Service areas.
This unique benefit is for members of the Air Force, Army, Marines, Navy, Coast Guard, and most members of the U.S. Reserves and National Guard. This allows them to fully enjoy the majesty of the country they fight to protect. To better understand how beneficial this may be, it is important to know exactly what the National Parks and Forests consist of.
Created in 1916, the National Park Service manages and preserves the 58 national parks, as well as many national monuments. It is also responsible for expanding resources, and ensuring that the areas are available to the public. Recreational activities usually include hiking, backpacking, camping, guided tours, and occasionally horseback riding or canoeing. Below are merely a couple of representatives of the parks in this category:
The popular Arches National Park, near Moab, Utah, is known for its many impressive geological formations. Although it features sandstone towers, boulders, and natural bridges, it was the series of sandstone arches that gave the park its descriptive name. Amid the abundant wildlife that ranges from rattlesnakes and lizards, to bighorn sheep and mountain lions, visitors can hike, bike, and camp. Guided tours and star-gazing opportunities are also provided.
Located in Colorado, in the front range of the Rocky Mountains, the beautiful Rocky Mountain National Park features a variety of majestic scenery and environments. From the dry tundra of the mountaintops, to the lush forests surrounding the lakes, visitors are enchanted as they take in the different species of wildlife, and vast vegetation offered there. This park is surrounded by the Routt National Forest, the Arapaho National Forest, and the Roosevelt National Forest.
National forests are federal lands owned by the American people, and managed by the United States Forest Service, since 1905. Overall, there are 154 that have this status throughout the country. The majority of them are located west of the Mississippi River. The Allegheny is one of the forests to the east.
At 513,175 acres, or roughly 801.8 square miles, Allegheny National Forest is located in Pennsylvania. Long known for its wildlife and vegetation, it is home to bears, turkeys, deer, birds, wolves, and cougars, as well as the popular black cherry tree.
Today, the forest has become very accommodating to the various activities that its visitors typically enjoy. Scenic overlooks at the reservoir, and other areas to watch wildlife throughout the lands, are joined by trails for hiking, cross-country skiing, and ATV and snowmobile riding. On the water, there are beaches, boat launches, and fishing piers. Campgrounds are equipped with electricity, hot showers, and picnic areas to make a visit comfortable and convenient, as well as enjoyable.
Fishing and Wildlife Habitats
Originating in 1871, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages habitats on non-federal lands. With over 150 million acres and 560 wildlife refuges, it oversees the endangered-species program, wetlands, and wildlife conservation.
Some of the larger habitats maintained by this service include: “Dakota Tallgrass Prairie Wildlife Management Area” in North and South Dakota, “Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge” in Utah, “White River National Wildlife Refuge” in Arkansas, “Key West National Wildlife Refuge” in Florida, “Desert National Wildlife Refuge” in Nevada, and “Arctic National Wildlife Refuge” in Alaska, to name a few.
Visitors to these areas can view an array of wildlife in the natural habitat. With an annual parks pass, members of the U.S. military and their families can do this for free.
How to Obtain a U.S. Military Parks Pass
Obtaining the annual free pass is relatively easy. With a proper military ID, a service man or woman can fill out the necessary paperwork at nearly any Federal Recreation Site that charges fees for entrance or amenities. Most sites that issue the regular annual pass are capable of handling the free version for members of the military, as well. To avoid confusion or an unnecessary trip, contact the area ahead of time, for which the visit is planned, to ensure pass availability, or call 1-888-ASK-USGS (888-275-8747) and press 3, or email [email protected] to determine the closest park.
Regulations for Military Parks Pass
Once the pass has been obtained, it must be signed to be valid. There are two signature lines. The first line must be signed with a first and last name by the military member, or (during deployment) a dependent. The second line is not required. However, if the second line is signed by another military member or dependent, he or she may use the pass, without the owner of the pass being present. Only the people who sign the pass may use it.
At areas that charge “per vehicle fees,” presentation of the pass admits the owner, or second signer, and all other passengers in a private vehicle. At locations that charge “per person,” the pass covers the owner, or second signer, and up to three other adults. Any additional adults will need to pay the regular fee, but children, ages 15 and under, are usually free.
A motorcycle is considered a vehicle, and the pass only admits those on the bike, in “per vehicle fee” areas. For bicyclists, however, the situation is different. Generally, the owner of the pass, and up to 3 others, can cycle in for free. It is always a good idea to check ahead of time for the specific rules of the park or habitat to be visited.
Possible Restrictions for Parks Pass
There are several restrictions to obtaining, or using, the free U.S. military parks pass. First, this is for active military members, not veterans. There are other passes that veterans can apply for. Second, there may be additional fees at some parks, forests, or habitats. Some areas are managed by private companies that may charge for their services. The pass doesn’t cover this. Last, it doesn’t cover additional fees like: parking fees, boating, camping, ferries, special tours or permits.
Furthermore, the owner of the pass–or the second signer–must be present whenever it is used. It is not transferable, or retroactive. If the owner forgets it, he or she doesn’t receive a reimbursement for the entrance fee. Also, if the pass is lost or stolen, it is not automatically replaced; a new one will need to be obtained.
An annual parks pass typically costs visitors $80. The annual U.S. military parks pass is provided free of charge to active service men and women, as a token of appreciation for their sacrifices. This enables them to enjoy the bounty and majesty of the country, for which they pledged their allegiance “from sea to shining sea.