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by John A Cianci, Department Veterans Service Officer,
Italian American War Veterans (ITAM)
Free America the Beautiful Passes to National Parks for Veterans and Gold Star Families
Did you know the National Park Service since Veterans Day 2020, Gold Star Families and US military veterans are eligible to receive free access to more than 2,000 federal recreation areas, including national parks, wildlife refuges, and forests. The free access program is a way to thank America’s veterans and Gold Star Families for their support of our country and to encourage them to explore recreational opportunities on their public lands and waters. If you were to purchase this annual pass, it would cost you $80.
Did you know you can obtain the pass in person at federal recreation sites that charge entrance or standard amenity fees, which includes one in Rhode Island, Roger William National Memorial, Providence, RI, (401) 521-7266, or online https://store.usgs.gov/pass.
Nature is a powerful force in healing. The free pass covers entrance to National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sites that charge entrance fees, and covers standard amenity fees at Forest Service, Bureau of Reclamation Sites, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sites. The pass admits the pass owners and any accompanying passengers in a private non-commercial vehicle at per vehicle fee areas, or the pass owner and up to 3 adults (16 years and older) and no entry fee charged for children 15 and under. The entrance fee waiver does not cover expanded amenity or user fees for activities such as camping, transportation, special recreation permits, reservation fees or special tours.
The America the Beautiful – The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass Series includes different options of interagency passes that provide access to more than 2,000 federal recreation areas across the United States. Participating agencies include the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, US Forest Service, and US Army Corps of Engineers. Most interagency passes are available through the USGS Online Store. Use the search list below for options to purchase or pick up passes at participating agencies’ sites across the country.
VETTIP Ensure to have photo identification with you as the owner of the pass, you will be asked when using the pass.
With the free pass, you can access over 400 National parks across America, to include 13 located in Rhode Island and Massachusetts (see below for complete listing). These national parks have direct connections to the American military, including frontier forts, battlefields, national cemeteries, and memorials.
Locally, the pass can be obtained and used Roger William National Park, Providence, RI or obtained online https://store.usgs.gov.
Many of the National parks are historical sites provide veterans and current military members and their families with opportunities for relaxation, recreation, and camaraderie in the great outdoors. Many parks are popular destinations for active adventures like hiking, climbing, cycling, swimming, and scuba diving, while others are known for more tranquil activities such as camping, fishing, wildlife watching, and observing the night sky. NPS.gov provides a map that highlights national parks near Veterans Administration facilities across the country and provides detailed information about each park.
One of my favorites, Cape Cod’s National Seashore, Wellfleet MA. The national seashore includes forty miles of sandy beaches, salt marshes, ponds, and uplands. It also preserves historic buildings and landscapes. In addition to its habitats that provide for species diversity, and its cultural sites which interpret the story of human use, the national seashore provides for many recreational activities that beckon visitors: bicycling, wildlife viewing, swimming, hiking, canoeing, and kayaking. Exhibits, ranger-guided programs, films, and science and history presentations interpret the many facets of the national seashore. More information on Cape Cod’s National Seashore National Park, visit their Facebook page or go to http://www.nps gov/caco.
Another hidden America Treasure is Buffumville Lake, Charlton MA, a U.S Army Corps of Engineers recreation site. Buffumville Park is open daily from mid-May through mid-September. The park is a day use fee area containing picnic sites with tables and grills. The Corps maintains a swimming area with a 300-foot-long beach. This area includes two picnic shelters that may be reserved for a nominal fee (www.recreation.gov), a life jacket loaner station, horseshoe pit, volleyball court and a handicap accessible comfort station. This Park has a disc golf course at the Buffumville Dam site has 18 professional holes and 12 amateur holes for golfers of all ages. The 7.2-mile Lake Shore Trail starts in the park and extends around the shoreline of the lake. The trail is marked with blue blazes. Park rangers provide special interpretive programs on topics to include natural resources, water safety, and Dam tours.
Pandemic claustrophobic veterans, get your FREE America The Beautiful pass and plan some America the Beautiful road trips visits to National Parks and Federal Recreational located in RI and MA.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1 Who is eligible to gain free entrance as a Veteran?
For purposes of this program, a veteran is identified as an individual who has served in the US Armed Forces, including the National Guard and Reserves, and is able to present one of the following forms of identification or the Interagency Military Pass when entering a national park:
VETTIP The actual IDs listed above must be presented. Photocopies or digital images are not accepted. Form DD-214 is not accepted.
Q2 Are passes available for disabled veterans or other people with disabilities?
Yes. The Interagency Access Pass is a lifetime pass that is free for any US citizen or permanent resident, including a veteran or Gold Star Family member, who has a permanent disability. An Access Pass may also provide discounts for expanded amenities like camping, guided tours etc. For more information visit USGS Store – Access Pass.
Q3 Who is eligible to gain free access as a member of a Gold Star Family?
Gold Star Families are next of kin of a member of the US Armed Forces who lost his or her life in a “qualifying situation,” such as a war, an international terrorist attack, or a military operation outside of the United States while serving with the US Armed Forces. Eligibility requirements are in section 3.2 of Department of Defense Instruction 1348.36.
How does a Gold Star Family gain free access to a national park?
Before visiting a national park site, Gold Star Family members must download and print a voucher to present to park staff, exchange for an annual Interagency Military Pass, or place on the vehicle dashboard at unstaffed sites (representations of the voucher are prohibited; the physical voucher or pass must be present. By downloading and signing the voucher, Gold Star Family members are self-certifying that they meet the required criteria as identified in sections 3.2 and 3.3 of Department of Defense Instruction 1348.36.
Following is the self-certification language on the voucher:
“I hereby affirm that I am an eligible next of kin (NOK) of a member of the United States Armed Forces who lost his or her life in a qualifying situation, such as war, an international terrorist attack or a military operation outside of the United States while serving in the United States Armed Forces, as identified in sections 3.2 (Qualifying Situation) and 3.3 (Eligible NOK) of Department of Defense Instruction 1348.36”
Q3 Does the waiver include others traveling with the veteran or Gold Star Family member?
Free access is for the veteran or the holder of the Gold Star Family voucher as well as travelling companions who are occupants of a single, private non-commercial vehicle OR the veteran or voucher-holder and three persons (16 and older) where per person fees are charged. The voucher is non-transferrable and void if altered.
Q4 What are the locations in RI, MA, and CT the pass can be used at?Rhode Island
NATIONAL PARK SERVICE Roger Williams National Memorial PROVIDENCE, RIPhone: (401) 521-7266. Roger Williams National Memorial was established by Congress in 1965 to commemorate Williams’s “outstanding contributions to the development of the principles of freedom in this country.” The memorial, a 4.5-acre urban greenspace located at the foot of College Hill in downtown Providence, includes a freshwater spring which was the center of the settlement of Providence Plantations founded by Williams in 1636. It is on this site that Williams, through word and action, fought for the ideal that religion must not be subject to regulation by the state but, instead, that it should be a matter of individual conscience. It was a remarkable journey that brought Williams to what is now the capital of Rhode Island and to where he put his beliefs into practice, giving “shelter for persons distressed of conscience.”
NATIONAL PARK SERVICE Adams National Historical Park QUINCY, MAPhone: (617) 770-1175. From the sweet little farm at the foot of Penn’s Hill to the gentleman’s country estate at Peace field, Adams National Historical Park is the story of “heroes, statesman, philosophers … and learned women” whose ideas and actions helped to transform thirteen disparate colonies into one united nation.
FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge SUDBURY, MAPhone: (978) 562-3527. Most refuge lands and outdoor spaces have remained open for the public to enjoy, we ask that you Recreate Responsibly.
NATIONAL PARK SERVICE Boston National Historical Park BOSTON, MAPhone: (617) 242-5642. Outdoor spaces, including the Freedom Trail®, are open to visitors.
US ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS, Buffumville Lake, CHARLTON, MAPhone: (508) 248-5697. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers welcomes you to Buffumville Lake for year-round recreation. Park rangers are available to assist you during your visit. The disc golf course at the Buffumville Dam site has 18 professional holes and 12 amateur holes for golfers of all ages. The 7.2-mile Lake Shore Trail starts in the park and extends around the shoreline of the lake. The trail is marked with blue blazes. Park rangers provide special interpretive programs on topics to include natural resources, water safety, and Dam tours. Buffumville Park is open daily from mid-May through mid-September. The Park is a day use fee area containing picnic sites with tables and grills. The Corps maintains a swimming area with a 300-foot-long beach. This area includes two picnic shelters that may be reserved for a nominal fee (www.recreation.gov), a life jacket loaner station, horseshoe pit, volleyball court and a handicap accessible comfort station. See pricing details. The outdoor sports enthusiast can hunt, fish and boat at Buffumville Lake. Hunting is not permitted in developed areas of the park and dam site. A concrete boat launch and culvert underneath Oxford Rd. permits boating on both sides of the lake. The launching land and courtesy dock provide easy access to the lake. Two barrier free fishing platforms are available within the boat launching area. The use of watercraft including motorboats, canoes, kayaks, and other vessels is permitted. The three-acre island on the south end of Buffumville Lake is available to rent (primitive camping) for up to one week. The island is extremely primitive with four tent sites, a fire ring, woodshed, picnic tables, and an outhouse. Permit holders must have a boat to reach the island. Reservations for the island start on January 1 of each year, beginning at one minute after midnight. Email us or leave a detailed phone message and you will be registered according to the time your message comes in.
NATIONAL PARK SERVICE Cape Cod National Seashore – SeasonallyPhone: (508) 255-3421. The national seashore includes forty miles of sandy beaches, salt marshes, ponds, and uplands. It also preserves historic buildings and landscapes. In addition to its habitats that provide for species diversity, and its cultural sites which interpret the story of human use, the national seashore provides for many recreational activities that beckon visitors: bicycling, wildlife viewing, swimming, hiking, canoeing, and kayaking. Exhibits, ranger-guided programs, films, and science and history presentations interpret the many facets of the national seashore. More information on Cape Cod’s National Seashore National Park, visit their Facebook page or go to http://www.nps gov/caco.
FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge SUDBURY, MA. Phone: (978) 443-4661. Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge is managed as part of the Eastern Massachusetts National Wildlife Refuge Complex.
Situated along the Atlantic Flyway in Massachusetts, the Eastern Massachusetts National Wildlife Refuge Complex is comprised of eight ecologically diverse refuges. The eight individual refuges include inland and coastal wetlands, forests, grasslands, and barrier beaches that provide important habitat for migratory birds, mammals, plants, reptiles and amphibians.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages these areas to maintain a vital and diverse environment for the area’s inhabitants. Refuges are managed to conserve and protect a diversity of native wildlife habitats and species. The refuge complex encompasses several threatened and endangered species, the only federally designated Wilderness Area in southern New England, one structure on the National Register of Historic Places and a National Wild and Scenic River.
US ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS Knightville Dam, HUNTINGTON, MAPhone: (413) 667-3430.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers welcomes you to Knightville Dam. The dam and reservoir area are located in the scenic Berkshire foothills along the East Branch of the Westfield River. Most of the 2,430 acres of the Knightville Dam area is undeveloped. You may enjoy hiking, mountain biking or horseback riding along several miles of trails and old country roads. Cross-country skiing and snowmobiling (limited to the west side of the river) are popular winter activities. The area just below the dam has picnic tables, fireplaces universally accessible public restrooms, drinking water and a picnic shelter. Groups may reserve the shelter in advance for a modest fee. The rivers and streams at Knightville offer excellent trout fishing. The river is stocked with trout in the spring. The surrounding hills provide prime upland game habitat, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts stocks pheasants in the fall. Hunting and fishing are permitted in accordance with posted restrictions and Massachusetts laws. Each spring, water releases from Knightville Dam are coordinated with those from nearby Littleville Lake to provide challenging flows for the annual Westfield River Wildwater Canoe Races. Located at the northern end of the reservoir, the Indian Hollow Group Campground is available by reservation to community groups such as churches, schools, scouts and clubs. For more information on reservations contact the project office or call toll free at 1-877-444-6777. For more information on hunting or fishing, you can contact the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife.
NATIONAL PARK SERVICE Lowell National Historical Park LOWELL, MAPhone: (978) 970-5000. Discover the Continuing Revolution. Lowell’s water-powered textile mills catapulted the nation – including immigrant families and early female factory workers – into an uncertain new industrial era. Nearly 200 years later, the changes that began here still reverberate in our shifting global economy. Explore Lowell, a living monument to the dynamic human story of the Industrial Revolution. The National Park runs various programs seasonally. Visitors are recommended to make reservations for all tours in advance as they can fill up quickly. To make a reservation, please call (978) 970-5000. Please check the tours section for more information.
NATIONAL PARK SERVICE Minute Man National Historical Park CONCORD, MAPhone: (978) 369-6993. At Minute Man National Historical Park, the opening battle of the Revolution is brought to life as visitors explore the battlefields and structures associated with April 19, 1775 and witness the American revolutionary spirit through the writings of the Concord authors. Every Spring, Summer and Fall Minute Man offers a variety of ranger programs to the visiting public. Due to the Covid 19 public health crisis the schedule for the 2021 season is yet to be determined.
NATIONAL PARK SERVICE Park NEW BEDFORD, MA Phone: (508) 996-4095. Celebrating the 25th Anniversary, the 25th anniversary of New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park celebrates a quarter century of interpretation, preservation, and partnerships that makes it one of the gems of the National Park System. Visitors to the park and the City of New Bedford are encouraged to explore the cultural resources, historic neighborhoods, and working waterfront managed and maintained by our partners and who embody Strength through Community. This year-long celebration pays tribute to the unique partnership of municipal, institutional, and individuals who advocated for the transformation of downtown New Bedford’s local historic district into a national park. The anniversary honors the relationships that have grown between the park, its partners, and the greater New Bedford communities who attract a wide and diverse audience to the City that Lit the World.
FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE Parker River National Wildlife Refuge NEWBURYPORT,MA. Phone: (978) 465-5753.Located along the northeast coast of Massachusetts, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1941 to provide feeding, resting, and nesting habitat for migratory birds. Most commonly associated with Plum Island – a barrier beach island – the refuge is comprised of more than 4700 acres of diverse habitats including sandy beach and dune, cranberry bog, maritime forest and shrub land, and freshwater marsh. The most abundant habitat on the refuge is its 3,000+ acres of salt marsh, one of the most productive ecosystems in nature. Parker River provides pristine coastal habitat for over 300 species of resident and migratory birds, as well as a large variety of mammals, insects, fish, reptiles and amphibians. The refuge also provides critical habitat for the federally threatened piping plover. In addition to its mission of wildlife conservation, the refuge provides a variety of excellent wildlife-dependent recreational activities, including surf fishing, wildlife observation and photography, a variety of interpretive programs, and seasonal waterfowl and deer hunting opportunities. A large visitor center – complete with a classroom and auditorium – supports many of these public uses. Explore the refuge by kayak: Parker River NWR includes more than 3000 acres of salt marsh. Explore the salt marsh in your kayak by paddling along our water trail. You can download the water trail map and guide by clicking the link below.
NATIONAL PARK SERVICE Springfield Armory National Historic Site SPRINGFIELD, MA Phone: (413) 734-8551. The Springfield Armory National Historic Site is located on the campus of Springfield Technical Community College. If using a GPS, do not use the physical address of the museum. Please use the following address:1 Armory St., Springfield, MA. 01105.For nearly two centuries, the US Armed Forces and American industry looked to Springfield Armory for innovative engineering and superior firearms. Springfield Armory National Historic Site commemorates the critical role of the nation’s first armory by preserving and interpreting the world’s largest historic US military small arms collection, along with historic archives, buildings, and landscapes.
US ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS West Hill Dam UXBRIDGE, MAPhone: (508) 278-2511. West Hill Dam and Park remain open year-round. Outside posted hours of operation, please feel free to park at the gates and walk in to enjoy your park. West Hill Park where the West River widens to form a large, natural swimming hole, known locally as Harrington Pool. Tables and grills are available for picnicking in two areas of the park, one near a beach and one under a grove of pines. The Park also offers two sandy beaches, a change house and modern rest rooms. Two picnic shelters on a wooded knoll, with electric are available to groups for a small fee. A sand volleyball court, horseshoe pits and accessible playground are nearby. From the parking lot, a 1/2-mile, self-guided nature trail runs down along the river and loop back through the woods. About two miles of hiking trails meander through the woodlands and provide secluded views of the river. Anglers will find trout in the main river channel and bass, pickerel and horned pout in the pools. Hunting for deer, small game and upland birds is permitted in accordance with state laws. Trout and pheasant are stocked by the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. West Hill Park offers two shelters, one with ten tables that will accommodate a group up to about 100 people, while the other has 4 tables and hosts about 30 people comfortably. No fees. Shelter reservations will be taken in person only at the project office on a first come, first serve basis.
Lou, above, a lifetime golfer, until 10 years ago, when requiring assisted living care; first time in 10 years he has golfed.
FREE GOLF every Wednesday, Buttonhole, Providence RI, 12:00-3:00pm Veterans, Active Military, and National Guard, can use the range or play 9 holes of golf at no charge. Simply sign-in at the Pro-Shop on Wednesday from noon to 3:00PM.
For more information, contact Don Wright, 401-421-1664 email firstname.lastname@example.org.
FREE Thursday Golf Clinics, Buttonhole, Providence RI, for all Veterans and immediate family. June thru October from 5:00-7:00pm f.The golf clinics are opened to all levels of experiences. Equipment use is free. One ParaMobile golf cart is available. For more information, contact Don Wright, 401-421-1664 email email@example.com.
Friday, August 6th, 11AM, “Rhode Island National Guard Summer Reunion”, Quonset Officers’ Club, 200 Lieutenant James Brown Road, North Kingstown. Point of contact is Bob Antonelli at 401.996.3764, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Cut-off date is Tuesday, August 3rd.
September 15-20, 2021, USMC Tankers Association Facility: Crown Plaza Providence-Warwick, 801 Greenwich Ave., Warwick RI 02886. Point of Contact Name: John Wear. Point of Contact Telephone: 719-495-5998. Point of Contact Email: email@example.com . Comments: The USMC Vietnam Tankers Association will be holding our 12th biennial reunion. Anyone who served with any of the Marine tank battalions or Ontos units in Vietnam . . . in any capacity is welcome!!!
If you have an event, meeting, other pertinent veteran information, or email questions or help needed, contact the Italian American War Veteran Service Officer, John A Cianci, firstname.lastname@example.org
John A. Cianci is a Veteran Service Officer. Retired, U.S. Army MSgt., Persian Gulf War and Iraq War combat theater.
Cianci, a combat disabled Veteran, served in Desert Shield/Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom. His awards include Bronze Star, Combat Action Badge, Good Conduct, and others.
Cianci belongs to numerous veterans organizations – Italian American War Veterans, American Legion, Veterans of Foreign War, United Veterans Council of Rhode Island, and many more organizations. He is an active volunteer assisting veterans to navigate federal and state benefits they have earned. He is Department of Rhode Island Department Commander Italian American War Veterans and Veteran Service Officer.
He is a graduate of Roger Williams University (BS Finance), UCONN business school* (Entrepreneur Bootcamp For Veterans), Solar Energy International Residential, Commercial and Battery Based Photovoltaic Systems certificate programs, numerous certificates from the Department of Defense renewable energy programs, including graduate of the Solar Ready Vets Program.