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As coronavirus cases again surge across the country, the outdoors remains a rare and safe refuge for Americans, particularly for those struggling with anxiety or depression due to the pandemic.
On Wednesday, those hoping to reap the benefits of fresh air and the unseasonably warm weather in much of the country can explore national parks and forests for free in honor of Veterans Day.
And the Department of Veterans Affairs announced U.S. military veterans and gold star families will be granted a lifetime of free access to national parks, wildlife refuges and other federal lands managed by the Department of the Interior.
“With the utmost respect and gratitude, we are granting Veterans and Gold Star Families free access to the iconic and treasured lands they fought to protect starting this Veterans Day and every single day thereafter,” said Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt.
The access passes, called America the Beautiful, currently cost $80 per year and grant entry to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites spread out across more than 400 million acres of public lands, including Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Arches and Mount Rushmore National Memorial.
To get the free pass, veterans must provide some form of identification showing they were in the armed forces or the U.S. National Guard and Reserves. Gold star families are those who have lost a family member who was serving in a war or a military operation outside of the U.S. or in an international terrorist attack.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages people to visit parks and camps: “Staying physically active is one of the best ways to keep your mind and body healthy.”
The agency advises adventurers to follow general COVID-19 prevention guidelines, including avoiding crowded parks and campgrounds, practicing social distancing, wearing a mask and washing hands often. The CDC also recommends visiting parks and recreation areas that are close to home.