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Veterans can explore parks for free

Here's good news for veterans — especially those who enjoy the outdoors.

Active military personnel in any branch or unit of the U.S. Armed Forces and veterans with a service-related disability are now eligible to receive a free year-round vehicle permit that will provide them with unlimited access to all 75 Minnesota state parks and recreation areas.

The new benefits were proposed by the Department of Natural Resources and approved by state lawmakers during the 2017 Minnesota legislative session.

It's a good move. Our veterans often don't get the appreciation they deserve.

"We are grateful to the men and women who have served in the military," said Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr in a news release announcing the new benefits. "Providing free access to Minnesota state parks is just one way to thank them for their service and sacrifice."

There are no residency requirements and recipients of a Purple Heart Medal are also eligible. If an individual does not want an annual pass a one day permit can be issued in its place.

National Guard members and their dependents are eligible for a free annual permit or free daily permit only if the member is currently deployed.

Other DNR benefits are also available to veterans, such as first preferences for special deer hunts, exemptions for needing a firearms safety certificate, and a free subscription to the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer magazine.

To see all of the licenses, permits and passes that are available to military personnel and veterans, and the form of identification that an individual needs to show, visit www.mndnr.gov and select the drop-down menu under "Licences, Permits and Regulations."

The DNR is already recognized as a Yellow Ribbon Company for its support of active and retired military personnel and their families. The new park benefit fits in nicely with that designation.

Active military personnel and veterans with a service-related disability should feel free to go to a state park, such as Itasca State Park, and get their free permit to explore the parks this summer.

Many people don't realize all the things they can do at a state park. You can camp, find lodging, go biking or hiking along a trail, relax on a beach, learn about nature and more. You can also rent park equipment for free — everything from GPS units for geocaching adventures, to birding kits and rods and reels for fishing.

Also, veterans who are searching for a little peace and quiet can find a quiet getaway in a state park. A list is included in the summer guide on the Parks and Trails website. Go to www.mndnr.gov and search for "peace and quiet."

If you know of a veteran with a service-related disability or an active member of the military, let them know about this new opportunity to take a well-deserved break at our parks, for free.

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