On Aug. 19, during
a visit to Indiana Dunes National Park, Secretary of the Interior David
Bernhardt met with employees for a question-and-answer session.
During that Q&A,
Fee Program Supervisor Ryan Koepke asked Bernhardt why there wasn’t a free
pass to the national parks for military veterans. Bernhardt liked the
question, and in subsequent testimony the Department of the Interior urged
Congress to add veterans to a proposed bill which would allow free access to
federal parklands for Gold Star families.
and beginning this Veterans Day, Wednesday, Nov. 11, all military veterans
and Gold Star families will have free access to approximately 2,000 federal
public locations spread across more than 400 million acres of public lands.
When asked why he
suggested free access to veterans, Koepke said, “I and other park staff
believe that a free pass into a national park is the least we should be
doing for people who have served our country in the military.
“Plus, it’s very
personal for me since I have family members who have served, including my
grandfather, Robert Kellenberger; father, Ricky Koepke; uncle, William
Kellenberger; and a nephew, Gage Koepke, who is serving now.”
“This new pass is a
terrific outcome thanks to Ryan’s question to the Secretary and it will
benefit veterans for generations to come,” said Paul Labovitz,
superintendent of Indiana Dunes National Park.
For the purposes of
this program, a veteran is identified as someone who has served in the U.S.
Armed Forces, including the National Guard and Reserves, and is able to
present one of the following forms of identification: Department of Defense
ID card; Veteran Health ID card; Veteran ID card or a veteran’s designation
on a state-issued driver’s license or ID card. The pass covers entrance fees
at all national parks and other federal lands.
It does not include
camping or some other expanded amenity fees and is not accepted at state