National parks passes
■ Annual pass — $80 — Available to everyone.
■ Free annual pass for active-duty military.
■ Senior pass — $10 lifetime — For U.S. citizens or permanent residents age 62 or over.
■ Free access pass for U.S. citizens or permanent residents with permanent disabilities.
■ Free volunteer pass for volunteers with 250 service hours with federal agencies that participate in the Interagency Pass Program, which includes the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Reclamation.
Golden Access and Golden Age Passports no longer are sold but will be honored according to provisions of the passes.
For application details and other information: Find a Park
Allowing active-duty military personnel to enter national parks for free is one of those government policies that makes so much sense, our first reaction is: Why wasn't this done earlier?The answer, though, is not as important as the responsibility for all Americans to spread the news about what happened last Saturday. As part of the national observance of Armed Forces Day, the National Parks Service announced a new annual pass granting military families free access to all 397 national parks, including Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. And that's not all. Because the new military pass is part of the Interagency Pass Program, it also allows admission to more than 2,000 recreation sites and public lands.
Here's why we like the long-overdue annual parks pass for active-duty military personnel:
Deservedness: Considering sacrifices made and dangers encountered by active-duty military members in protecting the American way of life, free access to national parks is well-earned. As they protect our freedoms, granting them the freedom to enter national parks at no cost makes perfect sense.
The annual military pass applies only to active-duty personnel, but the National Parks Service points out that many veterans qualify for other parks passes such as the low-cost, lifetime senior parks pass or the free parks pass for residents with permanent disabilities.
Local impact: As reported in The Columbian on Tuesday, Fort Vancouver is one of the area's distribution points for the new military pass. That decision was wise for several reasons. Most significant is the military history of Fort Vancouver. Also, the site is close to Interstate 5, making it easy for active-duty military personnel to use their passes near downtown Vancouver, or to apply for them at the fort's Hudson's Bay stockade.
As the site's chief ranger and historian, Greg Shine, noted, "The connection between the military and national parks is especially evident here … . One of the reasons that Congress established this national park was to preserve and interpret the establishment of the U.S. Army's Vancouver Barracks."
Increased attendance: Any program that potentially increases tourism at local sites is good for the community. The new military pass is good not only at Fort Vancouver but also at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, where the pass applications are available at the Carty Unit.
The new pass is good for the military, and it's good for parks. Twin winners is an outcome that's hard to beat.