US Service Members Now Get Free Entry To National Parks

Earlier this week the U.S. Department of the Interior announced that all active U.S. service members, and their dependents, will now be eligible to receive a free annual pass to national parks. This new military version of the America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands Annual Pass will be available starting tomorrow, just in time for Armed Forces Day.

The new pass grants members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard, as well as activated members of the National Guard and Reserves, fee-free entry to over 2,000 national parks, wildlife refuges, national forests and other public lands across the U.S. The pass is available at any park or wildlife refuge that currently charges an entry fee, and of course a valid military ID is required. A complete list of sites where the pass is available can be found by clicking here.

The new national park pass grants free entry to its owner and accompanying passengers in a single, private, non-commercial vehicle at all sites that currently charge a per-vehicle fee. At sites that collect per-person entrance fees, it covers the pass owner and three accompanying adults age 16 and older. There is no entry fee for children 15 and under.

The creation of this new benefit for active military personal comes from the Joining Forces Initiative, which was launched last year by First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden. The purpose of the organization is to rally all sectors of American society to find new ways to support service members and their families, particularly in these challenging times. So far the JFI has helped thousands of veterans to find jobs, worked with schools to improve educational opportunities for military children and connected with the medical community to improve healthcare for military families as well.

Freedom to relax: A luxury not afforded Obama

Nothing a president does goes unnoticed. Even the slightest decisions are parsed carefully in the hopes of gaining some insight into to the man, the office or the policy that comes from both. His recent trip to Panama City, Florida, 27 hours to show that you can chill in the Gulf Coast area following the oil spill, may have been a decent move, but Obama‘s other trips, not to mention those taken by his family, have caused him some agita.

Michelle Obama‘s vacation in Marbella, Spain brought some heat, as did the family’s vacations in Maine’s Acadia National Park and Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. There are always people to laud and criticize, regardless of which party is in power. There’s always on group that seems to come out on top, however: the locals.

The Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce said visits to it website surged 50 percent following Obama’s trip to Maine, though other factors may have contributed. Of course, the opportunity comes with a few risks. According to USA Today:

As for Panama City Beach, the Bay Point Marriott (where the First Family ate lunch and spent Saturday night) doesn’t highlight this weekend’s getaway on its website, and the convention and visitors bureau took down its Facebook post about Michelle Obama’s visit last month after a series of “personal attacks,” says CEO Dan Rowe.

[photo by transplanted mountaineer via Flickr]

Tourists get unexpected breakfast buffet with Obama at the White House

Perhaps you read about the tourist couple who recently were ushered into a White House breakfast buffet with President and Michelle Obama even though they did not have an invitation. All Harvey and Paula Darden planned on doing when they showed up at the White House was take a tour that their congressman helped arrange for them. Unfortunately, they arrived a day earlier than they were supposed to.

This turned out to be a good thing. When they arrived saying they were there for a tour, the White House staff person lead the Dardens into the East Room. There the couple found themselves chowing down food in the midst of people who were not dressed in tourist attire.

The buffet was for veterans–something neither of the Dardens are. But, according to the White House staff, because the Dardens had been cleared by security like all the other guests—and since there wasn’t a tour, they were given breakfast instead.

The only reason we know about this incident is because the Dardens became worried after Tareq and Michaele Salahi crashed the state dinner two weeks after the Dardens’ visit. The Dardens, I suppose, felt it necessary to come forward to tell about how their off the cuff visit happened. It wasn’t something they planned. They don’t want people to get the wrong idea about them. They are not event crashers who tried to pull one over on the White House.

Hopefully, the Dardens’ splash into national news won’t halt the unexpected buffet invites for the rest of us who might show up at the White House for a legitimate reason but on the wrong day.

The news story, unfortunately, was written as if this might have been another White House gaff.

No, no, no. Don’t say that. Just say that the Dardens felt uncomfortable with their unexpected luck. To feel better, I suggest the Dardens write a thank-you note and add that it’s nice to know that tourists have access to a White House brunch every once in awhile when they least expect it—with the proper security clearance, of course.

Obama adding umph to the Land of Lincoln and Winfrey

Barack Obama’s new status as the president-to-be has added a boost to Illinois tourism. Already tourists are showing up to frequent the places Obama has frequented. Want to see where he used to get his haircut before the Secret Service said, “No way,” to the large plate glass windows? Head to Hyde Park Salon and Barber Shop. Even though Obama won’t be there, (the barber now goes to him) you can see the chair where he once sat.

If eating where Obama heads with Michelle on date nights is what you’re after, head to Medici on 57th Street in Chicago. There you can join the 3,000 other folks who have bought “Obama Eats Here” T-Shirts.

For some inspiration, tour the Old Statehouse in Springfield where Obama gave two campaign speeches, or stand in Grant Park in Chicago and imagine the crowd on election night when history was made.

The Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau’s homepage has been changed to reflect the flurry of tourists interested in Obama travel. There’s a link to “Presidential Chicago” that highlights the places Obama has frequented and provides addresses and contact information. One of them is Maria Pinto Boutique, the designer who is a fave of both Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey.

For more Obama travel ideas and information, check out this AP article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. It’s where I found out about these details, except for the info about Obama’s barber. I read about that in an article earlier this week about how Obama has had to change his patterns for security reasons. If you see a gaggle of Secret Service members, Obama might be close by. Keep an eye out.