Millions of Americans are still celebrating the centennial America’s National Parks. With nearly $12 billion in deferred maintenance projects as of February 2016, the National Park Service is examining every angle to raise additional funds for 2017. While there have been certain National Park Service fund raising tactics proposed recently, one strategy they are now considering is raising the National Parks Lifetime Senior Pass Fee.
Can You Expect a National Parks Lifetime Senior Pass Fee Increase?
In addition to the annual $3 billion in routine operations costs the National Park System must fund every year, it must also find a way to pay for critical fixes in each location. According to the National Parks Conservation Association, the maintenance backlog is long. It includes everything from fixing leaky roofs at the Santa Fe National Historic Trail Landmark, to adding ADA access at Valley Forge National Historic Park. Advocates for the parks argue that one way to make the work happen is by boosting the National Park Service Lifetime Senior Pass fee from $10 to $80.
“Congress is currently considering raising the price of the Lifetime Senior Pass to $80 and adding an option for an Annual Senior Pass for $20,” says Jeffrey Olson, Public Affairs Officer for the National Park Service. “The agencies are not currently considering raising the price of the Interagency Annual Pass which is $80,” he adds. Olson explained that the current price of the Senior Pass has been $10 since 1994.
The Senior Pass is a Deal for Everyone On Board
U.S. citizens aged 62 and older can purchase a Lifetime Senior Pass for the one-time fee. Most recent fiscal data states that about 604,238 of the Passes were sold in 2015. The National Park Service gained a mere $6 million from these sales. With America’s life expectancy at an all-time high, many seniors (and those who tag along on vacation) get to enjoy about 21 years of free admission to recreation lands.
The Lifetime Senior Pass allows entry into more than 2,000 recreation sites managed by five Federal agencies. Destinations where seniors save include those managed by The Forest Service, the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, USACE, and Bureau of Reclamation. At areas that charge by the carload, a pass admits the pass owner and passengers in their non-commercial vehicle. The pass admits up to four adults at destinations that base fees on a per-person basis.
How Will a Fee Increase Help the Parks?
A Lifetime Senior Pass fee increase won’t solve the National Park Service’s entire budget shortfall. However, many argue that the increase could make a significant dent in the deferred maintenance shortfall.
“The agencies currently issue 600,000-700,000 Lifetime Senior Passes per year,” says Olson. “If we continue to issue the same number of Lifetime Senior Passes annually, this will result in an additional $42-49 million collected by the agencies per year,” he explains.
Nobody can predict when or even if the National Park Service will acquire this extra funding. Individual parks can set their own admission fees. That’s why you`ll pay more at some parks than others. However, it will literally take an act of Congress to make the Lifetime Senior Pass fee increase a reality. The national parks pass program was created by the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, which Congress authorized in December 2004. To this day, Congress is the only governing body that can change it. A final decision has not yet been reached.
Rene Agredano and her husband, Jim Nelson, became full-time RVers in 2007 and have been touring the country ever since. In her blog, Rene chronicles the ins and outs of the full-timing life and brings readers along to meet the fascinating people and amazing places they visit on the road. Her road trip adventures are chronicled in her blog at LiveWorkDream.com.
Will current pass holders be required to pay additional to keep their current pass?
Rene Agredano - The Full Timing Nomad says
I’m not a NPS official, but my best guess is no, since that was not mentioned during our interview.
No, current pass holders are not required to pay additional fees.
Lee Ensminger says
I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that there would be a price increase after 22 years. The problem would be the theory that, having not increased the price for that length of time, it’s okay to take it from $10 to $80! A reasonable increase in one thing, a factor of 8x is another. Also, I was visiting the Fish Creek Wildlife Observation Site in Hyder, AK in 2014. I got in with my pass, but there was a sign at the kiosk that stated the Lifetime Senior Pass would not be honored after a certain date [late 14, early 15, I forget]. When did the parks get the ability to individually decide whether or not they would honor the Pass? Are they not all part of the same U.S. Federal Parks program, under the same rules and regulations?
Jim S. says
Do you think my sons National Parks Access Pass (son is disabled) be honored in the future, increased or eliminated all together. Yes, during our RVing trip to Alaska this summer we did use it at some sites. The biggest benefit was 1/2 off at BLM or US. Forest Service campgrounds. But, with that said, there were some places where a contractor ran that facility and the Access or Senior pass was not honored. Or there was no longer a entrance fee, but now there is a “parking” fee not honored with the Access Pass.
Personally I don’t have a problem raising the $10 Senior Lifetime pass, but not a 800% increase. Maybe to $25 or $35 and look at another price increase in 5 more years to $50… Our local state parks have done the same thing over the last 15 years, overnight camping fees increased 500% to 600%. ( $6 – 10 increased to $24 – $40 ).
My retirement pension continues to decrease because of the rising cost of healthcare, which at the current pace of increase will wipe out whats left of my pension in 5 -7 more years. Worked my whole life under the assumption if I worked hard, paid all my taxes due I could retire and enjoy some freedom. Even when I lost a job because it closed or downsized I had another job within a week. So any benefit I can get to use the National Parks before I can no longer can travel is what keeps me going. Thank the Lord for lower fuel prices…..That is the only saving grace…
Current, there are no changes to the Access Pass.
The $80 fee is the same price as a regular Annual Pass that a non-senior or non-US citizen would be charged. The Senior Lifetime pass will be the same as a 1 year pass. For seniors that do very little traveling will have a new option of a Senior Annual Pass for $20.
Ranger Laura C.
Colonial National Historic Park
Carla Coleman says
In your article there appears to be a contradiction as to when the Senior Pass program started. In the last paragraph you state “The national parks pass program was created . . . (and) . . . authorized in December 2004.”
Yet in the beginning of the article (second paragraph) one finds the following statement, “the current price of the Senior Pass has been $10 since 1994.”
Rene Agredano - The Full Timing Nomad says
Thanks for taking time to ask for clarification. The Senior Pass was indeed created in 1994 but it wasn’t actually called the “Senior Pass.” It was part of the parks discount program that had the Golden Eagle, Golden Age, and the Golden Access Passports. In 2004 the NPS created the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, which included the Senior Pass as we know it today. You can read more here.
Tom Fitch says
You have to admit, $10 for a lifetime pass is ridiculously low. If we want nice things, we should be willing to pay for them.
Michael R Zinkow says
Leave the fees alone, but charge EVERYONE!
carl newton says
Lower fuel prices are good indeed. The proposed increase from $10 to $80 for something that is a one time cost is not a bad thing. The park services issues some 600K plus passes every year.
Increasing the fee from 10 to 80 will bring some 48 million dollars vs 6 million an increase of 42 million dollars to use for maintenance, up grades etc.
One thing i hate to see if politicians spouting off about how reducing taxes will increase tax collections to US Treasury. If that is true then why is the park service so fricken far behind in maintenance of buildings and locations. God know they have cut the crap out of taxes over the past 20 plus years and we still have buildings in disrepair in the NPS.
I agree the cost should go up to at least $100 bucks.. remember that covers everyone in the car/RV with the pass holder not per person, so for a normal RV that is 2 or more folks so $100 is cheap.
If the want quality you need to pay for it. plain and simple.
I know some will say “well you can give the $90 buck to NPS” but that is not the point.
Larry Gyger says
Having paid $60 for a pass good for only one year (back in 2003) I would have NO problem with the increase to $80 – one time only. My senior pass has already saved me more than the $80 many times over in the couple years I have had it.
We have been traveling all over the country for 9 months and have visited numerous national parks where there is NO entrance fee. You don’t need a pass to get in.
An example is Gulf Islands National Seashore Davis Bayou unit. It’s right beside the town of Ocean Springs, MS. With no entrance fees, its more like a city park. We saw lots of locals fishing from the park’s piers, hiking the trails, and kayaking in the park’s Bayou. (How did we know they were locals? License plates on their cars.) We even got squeezed out of a picnic pavilion near the boat launch area by a local family who piled out with balloons and party paraphernalia to set up for an apparently large birthday bash. They put table cloths on every picnic table. None of these folks paid a dime to use the park’s facilities.
Rather than raise the senior pass by 800% why not charge admission fees at the many National Park Service administered sites that presently don’t charge any entrance fees?
Terie Dohrman says
If I knew my money was actually going to be spent on parks, their maintenance, salaries for rangers and work crews, trails and buildings, etc., I wouldn’t have a problem paying $80, or more, for my Senior Pass. But I know the biggest share of the money stays in D.C. and each States’ capital and pays admin costs – salaries for directors, assistant directors, secretaries to directors, etc., vehicles for all those administrators to drive, offices for them to work in, business trips for “planning” meetings, etc. Very little of it goes to the needs of the parks, which is what is so frustrating and and the biggest reason the parks are in the poor shape that they are. It’s that way with every bureaucratic, top-heavy government department, and I’ve grown to resent the heck out of it. They’re our parks, and it’s our money, and they’re doing a lousy job taking care of both. It’s extremely poor and irresponsible stewardship.
Arlene St Germain says
I purchased a Senior lifetime pass several years ago for $10. Is my lifetime pass still valid?
John J Powers says
I would expect that the major “defered projects” would be best performed during the Covid shutdown sub-contractors would be storming the gates, offering major discounting on their offers. I understand that the Parks Service personnel cannot be allowed to “supervise at a distance”.