Military members, families get free national park passes

Tuesday , May 15, 2012 - 2:22 PM

Michael Muskal

The Obama administration is stepping up its courtship of active-duty military personnel and their families by offering them a free pass to any national park, officials announced on Tuesday.

The annual passes will be made available to members of the military free of charge beginning Saturday, Armed Forces Day, officials said. The pass, which usually costs $80, allows entrance to more than 2,000 national parks, wildlife refuges and other public lands.

The plan was announced Tuesday during a ceremony at Colonial National Historical Park in Yorktown, Va., where Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, director of the National Park Service Jonathan B. Jarvis and assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) Jo-Ellen Darcy distributed the first passes to one member from each of the military's five branches.

"Our nation owes a debt of gratitude to our servicemen and women who make great sacrifices and put their lives on the line to protect our country and preserve our freedom," Salazar said. "In recognition of their contributions and service, we are putting out a welcome mat for these brave men and women and their families at America's most beautiful and storied sites."

The National Park Service estimated that giving away the annual passes to service members and their families will cost between $2 million and $6 million in lost revenue a year. The government usually collects about $150 million in annual park fees nationwide.

The free pass will be made available for activated members of the National Guard and Reserves but not for military veterans or retirees.

Led by first lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, the Obama administration has been pushing for help for returning military members and their families, offering an array of services including job programs. The initiative is called Joining Forces.

"First lady Michelle Obama and I started the Joining Forces initiative last year as a way to honor, recognize and support our veterans and military families," Jill Biden said in a prepared statement. "This effort is a wonderful way to give something back, giving our military men and women and their families a chance to reconnect with their loved ones, experience the beauty of this country and simply have a little fun."

If the election were held today, President Barack Obama would win the veteran vote by as much as 7 points over presumptive GOP candidate Mitt Romney -- higher than his margin in the general population, according to a recent Reuters/Ispos poll.

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(c)2012 the Los Angeles Times

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