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Military families to get free pass to national parks

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Washington (CNN) -- Members of the U.S. military and their families are now eligible for free passes to national parks and monuments as part of a program timed to celebrate Armed Forces Day on Saturday, the White House announced.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar was to issue the first passes Tuesday at an event in Yorktown, Virginia.

The passes normally costs $80 and cover admission to 2,000 locations managed by the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service and other federal agencies.

Under the program, military members and their dependents will only need to show Defense Department identification to get the free passes.

"We have a new way to thank those who serve their country in the military," Salazar said Monday.

The program will cost $2 million to $6 million in lost revenue, National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis said.

"We collect about $150 million in fees nationwide, so we don't think that this amount of decrease will be significant to the overall operations of the service," Jarvis said.

In a conference call with reporters, Jill Biden -- the wife of Vice President Joe Biden -- said, "We are so pleased to be putting out a welcome mat for our military families at America's most beautiful and storied sites."

Jill Biden and First Lady Michelle Obama are leading a national effort called Joining Forces designed to provide support to military members and their families.

The action by the White House moves ahead of legislation proposed last year called the National Parks Freedom Pass Act.

The legislation, introduced in July by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, would cut the cost of the annual pass in half for active duty military members. The bill also would expand a $10 lifetime pass for retired military by removing the current minimum age of 62.

A similar House bill remains in committee. That proposal from Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Florida, calls for a lifetime half-price pass for members of the military.

White House officials made no mention of either bill in their announcement.

In addition to honoring those who have defended the country, Salazar noted strong ties between the parks and the military, going back to the establishment of Yellowstone National Park in 1872.

When that park was created, security and supervision were provided by the mounted force of the Army, the Cavalry. They were considered the first park rangers until the National Park Service was created 44 years later.

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