A bipartisan group of lawmakers is asking the National Park Service to guarantee access to its sites for some members of the military, veterans and Gold Star families, even on days when the locations are at their maximum capacity for tourists.
In a letter sent to service officials on Friday, the 22 Republican and Democratic House members said the move would be “a small change, but would have a positive impact” on the veterans and military community.
Last year, Congress approved legislation providing free access to National Parks sites across the country for veterans and Gold Star family members. Active-duty troops and their dependents can also get into the parks for free (although other fees, such as campsite reservations, still require payment).
The letter — led by Reps. Ben Cline, R-Va., and Chris Pappas, D-N.H. — notes that while the passes for those groups allow them to avoid the entrance fees, they do not guarantee access in peak visiting times.
That has become an issue in recent years, as National Parks Service officials have instituted lottery systems for admissions at some of their most popular locations. They include the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, Yosemite National Park in California and Zion National Park in Utah.
Handling of those lottery decisions are made by local leaders and do not currently include any carve-outs for military members or veterans.
“We request that the National Park Service institute a policy for lottery systems that would set aside a portion of the lottery selections to be reserved for active-duty military (personnel and dependents), Gold Star families, and veterans,” the lawmakers wrote. “These women and men who serve our country stand as heroes for all Americans.”
The members of Congress have asked for a response to the idea by the end of the month.
The National Park Service reported nearly 300 million visits to its 423 park sites across the country in 2021.
Officials on Friday announced they are studying 24 locations with “nationally significant connections to the Cold War” to potentially add them to the list of National Historic Landmarks.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.