But on this Veterans Day, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is granting a lifetime of free access to federal lands managed by the Department of the Interior for U.S. military veterans and Gold Star families.
“Veterans and Gold Star families are people who have sacrificed so much for our country,” Chief of Interpretation and Education Andrea DeKoter said. “This is a very small way that we can show our appreciation for them. Prior to this, in the beginning of 2012, active-duty military members, including National Guard and Reserves, could get annual passes. But now we’ve expanded that program.”
Starting Wednesday, those who qualify can get passes, granting access to approximately 2,000 public locations.
“I think the National Parks represent the very fabric of America,” DeKoter, who works at Richmond National Battlefield Park and Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site, told 8News. “You have these incredibly, beautifully diverse ecosystems, you have all this history represented. Here we have, in Richmond, this complex Civil War to Civil Rights story that we tell, so I think the National Parks are a way to connect with that history.”
Many of the National Parks do not charge a fee for entrance, but this initiative does not just include the parks.
“It’s all federal lands under the Interior Department,” DeKoter said. “When you’re talking about some of these initiatives, like this one for veterans, altogether, 400 million acres of land. It’s a lot of lands that have been preserved and protected for future generations and for our military families.”
DeKoter, who earned her PhD in U.S. History, believes the National Park Service provides places where people can connect with history in a way that can’t always be done through a textbook, especially at a Civil War site such as the Cold Harbor Battlefield.
“There’s a huge tragedy behind all this, but the Civil War is such an important part of our history, and it’s such an important part of the freedoms that we have today,” DeKoter said, “and it lays the groundwork for that.”