YORKTOWN, Va. (Army News Service, May 15, 2012) -- From Alcatraz Island to Zion National Park, Soldiers and their families can visit more than 2,000 national parks, wildlife refuges, national forests, and other public lands around the nation this year, without paying entry fees.

Beginning Armed Forces Day, May 19, active-duty and activated Guard and Reserve service members can pick up the new military version of the "America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands Annual Pass."

The pass will be accepted at National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Reclamation, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Army Corps of Engineer recreation sites that charge entrance or standard amenity fees. With the pass, those entry fees will be waived.

The pass is part of the "Joining Forces" initiative to support service members and their families, said Dr. Jill Biden.

"First Lady Michelle Obama and I started the Joining Forces initiative last year as a way to honor, recognize and support our veterans and military families," Biden said. "This effort is a wonderful way to give something back, giving our military men and women and their families a chance to reconnect with their loved ones, experience the beauty of this country, and simply have a little fun."

At a ceremony May 15 at Colonial National Historical Park in Yorktown, Va., Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, Director of the National Park Service Jon Jarvis and Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) Jo-Ellen Darcy distributed the first passes to one member from each of the military's five branches.

"Our nation owes a debt of gratitude to our servicemen and women who make great sacrifices and put their lives on the lines to protect our country and preserve our freedom," Salazar said. "In recognition of their contributions and service, we are putting out a welcome mat for these brave men and women and their families at America's most beautiful and storied sites."

Military members and their dependents can pick up their own pass at any national park or wildlife refuge that charges an entrance fee or other selected sites. They must show a valid military identification card to obtain their pass. The pass is also available to dependent family members of active-duty personnel.

Where there are entrance fees, the pass covers the owner and accompanying passengers in a single, private, non-commercial vehicle at recreation sites that charge per vehicle. At sites where per-person entrance fees are charged, it covers the pass owner and three accompanying adults age 16 and older. There is no entry fee for children 15 and under.

For more information on the pass, please visit: http://store.usgs.gov/pass/

(A White House "Joining Forces" news release contributed to this article.)