A bipartisan group of lawmakers is pushing to ensure troops, veterans and Gold Star families can get into National Parks even when they may be overflowing with tourists.
In a Friday letter to National Park Service Director Charles Sams, 24 House lawmakers asked him to set aside slots for those with military affiliations in the lottery systems that some National Parks implemented to prevent overcrowding.
“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 in the letter.
“These women and men who serve our country stand as heroes for all Americans,” they added. “This is a small change but would have a positive impact on all active-duty military, Gold Star families and veterans.”
The letter was organized by Reps. Ben Cline, R-Va., whose district includes part of Shenandoah National Park, and Chris Pappas, D-N.H., whose district includes a sliver of White Mountain National Forest, and co-signed by 13 Republicans and nine Democrats.
Last year, Congress passed a law that gives veterans and Gold Star families free lifetime passes to National Parks and free annual passes to service members and their families.
But in their letter, the lawmakers expressed concern that those groups may not be able to use their free access because of some parks’ lottery systems.
Several parks around the country have instituted lotteries for their most popular attractions in order to “limit traffic, enhance your experience and reduce our footprint,” according to the National Park Service website. The lotteries are “based on a fair and randomized distribution system” and meant to ensure “equitable participation,” the park service added.
Among the locations that require a lottery to visit are Half Dome at Yosemite National Park in California and the Angels Landing hike at Zion National Park in Utah.
“We acknowledge that oftentimes these lottery systems were established due to concerns around overcrowding, damage to park resources or other reasons,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter.
Other parks without lotteries have periodically closed their gates to visitors due to overcrowding, like Arches National Park in Utah.
Even though troops, veterans and Gold Star families “already have free access to National Parks, there are not spots reserved in these lottery systems for them, often resulting in them not being selected,” the lawmakers added.
In addition to requesting lottery slots be set aside for those groups, the lawmakers also asked Sams how many park units use a lottery system; how many require pre-registration or a fee to enter the lottery; and how many active-duty troops, Gold Star families and veterans go to National Parks annually.
The lawmakers requested a response by Oct. 24.