Stones with the names of fallen military members on Cadillac Mountain, carried by hikers as part of an event organized by The Summit Project. A new bill in Congress is proposing free entry to national parks for Gold Star Families. ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

King, Golden introduce bill to give free annual national park passes to Gold Star Families



WASHINGTON, D.C. — Members of Gold Star Families may receive free access to national parks under a new bill proposed by members of Maine’s Congressional delegation.

The Gold Star program is administered by the Department of Defense to recognize widows, widowers, parents, siblings and children of military servicemembers who have died in action.

The Gold Star Families Park Pass Act, sponsored by Senator Angus King and Rep. Jared Golden, is under review in legislative committees in both the House and Senate. The idea came from a Mount Desert Island resident who brought it to Golden’s office, according to a staff member.

Golden, a Marine Corps veteran who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, told the Islander that Gold Star family members have a very special place in any gathering of service members or veterans.

“We think of them all as our family the same way we thought of their loved one as family,” Golden said. “We kind of circle the wagons around them.

“Every one of us is cognizant of the fact that that could have been our family, and we’re always striving to make sure their loved ones’ sacrifice is meaningful.”

He got into the habit of hiking when he was deployed in Afghanistan, he said. When he left active duty and returned to Maine, dealing with post-traumatic stress, “getting out into the Maine mountains and going on a hike was really therapeutic for me.”

Golden has been involved with The Summit Project, a Maine nonprofit that organizes “tribute hikes” to pay tribute to servicemembers from the state who have died in the line of duty since Sept. 11, 2001. Hikers carry stones with the names of the fallen.

When that group organizes hikes that Gold Star Families are going to be a part of, it will cover entrance fees to the state or national park. Golden sees this bill as a way to “help leverage good work that’s already underway.”

By allowing more Gold Star Families to have this access to our national parks, he said, “perhaps we’d see other states adopt something like The Summit Project.”

The program proposed by the bill will be similar to the existing free annual pass program for active duty military members and their dependents.

Golden said he recognizes that parks including Acadia rely on entrance fee revenue to pay staff and maintain facilities. He expects to get questions about this bill setting a precedent for free entry for other groups.

But “less than one percent of people in this country serve in the military,” he said. “Gold Star Families among are our most special and honored. I think we can do this for them without it becoming some kind of competition.”

King, an independent, and Golden, a Democrat, have recruited a bipartisan group of cosponsors for the measure.

“The parks are such gems and they’re so healing for people to visit,” King said. “This is something the country can do for these families who have given so much, to provide a little warmth and thank-you.”

 

 

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

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