Thursday, July 13, 2017

National parks lifetime passes for seniors jump by 700 percent

National parks lifetime passes for seniors jump by 700 percent

By Mark Prado, Marin Independent Journal


Seniors will face a 700 percent increase on lifetime passes next month as the National Park Service looks to add dollars to its coffers for new projects.

The passes can be used at places such as the Muir Woods National Monument and other parks where entrance fees are collected.

This week the park service announced the passes for those 62 and older will jump from $10 to $80 on Aug. 28. The move will generate an extra $37.6 million annually for the park service. Park service officials acknowledged the congressionally approved change made last December — and signed by former President Barack Obama — has had mixed reaction.

“There has been a lot of buzz on social media,” said Kathy Kupper, park service spokeswoman. “Some like it, others see it as a pretty steep increase.”

Marin has the oldest and fastest-aging population in the region. One in four Marin residents — 64,000 people — are 60 or older. Within 15 years an estimated one in three will be 60 or older, according to the County Area Plan for Aging for 2016-2020.

“The ability to access outdoor spaces is a basic part of having an age-friendly community where older adults can stay active and engaged,” said Lee Pullen, director of Marin County’s Aging and Adult Services division. “The fewer economic barriers to this, the better.”

Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, saw both sides of the increase.

“The pass is still a great deal, but it does speak to a larger issue that there is a lack of support for our parks and public lands in the budget,” he said. “Congress needs to find ways to make parks more accessible and not nickel and dime people.”

Marin environmental activist Nona Dennis — a senior herself — said money is needed for parks, but added, “to go from $10 to 80 bucks will be discouraging for some seniors I know.”

The pass has cost $10 since 1994. Previously purchased lifetime Golden Age or senior passes will be honored for the lifetime of the pass holder.

The December legislation did introduce a new annual senior pass for $20. Seniors who purchase an annual passes for four years can trade them in for a lifetime pass at no additional charge.

The senior pass covers all entrance fees and day use fees and may provide senior discounts for things such as tours or campsites. The pass also waives the entrance fee for traveling companions. At per-vehicle fee sites, the pass admits the pass holder and all passengers in a noncommercial vehicle. At a per-person fee site, the pass admits the pass holder and three other adults. Children under 16 are admitted free.

There is still time to cash in on the $10 lifetime pass. It can be purchased at that price before Aug. 28 at a national park — like Muir Woods — or other federal recreation area that charges an entrance or day use fee. The pass can also be obtained by mail or online for $10 before Aug. 28 but there is an additional $10 charge for processing. Due to expected high order volume, there could be delays with online and mail order processing of up to several months, according to the park service.

“The money that is generated by the new fees will stay in the parks,” the park service’s Kupper said.

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