The price of the America the Beautiful lifelong senior pass for the National Parks Services will go up to $80 this month from $10.
Written by Bridget Butler-Sullivan
For the first time in more than 20 years, the price of a lifelong senior pass for the country’s National Parks is increasing — by a 700 percent markup.
Effective on Aug. 28, America the Beautiful lifelong senior passes will be $80, the first change in price since 1994 when the then named Golden Age Passport went from free to $10. Until now, the pass has remained at that $10 for everyone 62 or older.
The decision to finalize this measure was made when Congress passed the Centennial Legislation P.L. 114-289. The measure, made last December during the centennial, requires the senior lifelong America the Beautiful pass to equal the cost of an annual America the Beautiful pass, the yearlong option for adults visiting the park.
As written in the introduction to the legislation, the purpose of this measure is “to prepare for a second century of promoting and protecting the natural, historic and cultural resources of our national parks for the enjoyment of present and future generations.”
According to the official National Park Service website, this price hike will be used to make improvements to the visitor experience and recreation opportunities on federal lands.
The first $10 million in revenue collected each year from senior pass sales will go to the Second Century Endowment for the National Park Service, where it will fund projects and activities to benefit parks across the country, according to the NPS website.
Remaining funds will go towards the National Park Centennial Challenge fund, where they will be used to “enhance the visitor experience in the National Park system.”
Sequoia and Kings National Park alone cover 865,964 acres and are accredited as one of the largest parks in the nation. Eight hundred miles of trails mean that a large staff must maintain them. Funding helps maintain improvements to the parks, including the current 9 p.m.- 5 a.m. road maintenance.
According to Sintia Kawasaki-Yee, acting public affairs officer for Sequoia and Kings, the Park Service has had to rearrange staff in order to help manage the influx of passes being ordered by seniors trying to meet the cutoff day in August.
“Last Wednesday we were told that on average, the online sales previous high was 33,000. So far this year, we’ve gotten more than 250,000,” she said.
Backorders are now so stacked up that seniors are having to use a receipt and identification in place of receiving their pass.
In 2016, pass usage in Sequoia and Kings Canyon was 40,835. Between only the months of January to July 2017, this number was 24,223. Mid-year, this is already more than half of the usage it received during its centennial.
It is too early to tell whether the fee change will affect sales in the future, said Kawasaki-Yee. However, if visitation in the past few years is any indication, those with the pass will continue to make great use of it.
In the meantime, if seniors are unable to pay the $80 fee in a single installment, they have the option to purchase four senior annual passes instead, each for $20. When combined, these four passes can be exchanged for a lifetime pass.
Those who have already purchased their senior pass for the $10 fee will be grandfathered into the deal with no additional cost.
People can purchase senior passes at park admission and visitor stations. In Sequoia National Park, for example, seniors can purchase their pass at the foothills visitor center.
Online purchase options are available at https://store.usgs.gov/senior-pass, however they require an additional $10 processing fee.
This is not the first time National Parks have seen an increase in fees over the past few years. According to The Washington Post, in 2015, National Parks around the country underwent price hikes. For example, park entrance to Yosemite increased from $20 to $30.
All national pass prices are established by congress in legislation, said Kawasaki-Yee. It is currently unknown whether there are any other planned fee increases in Sequoia and Kings Canyon.
As of now, there is a waiting game to see what this price hike will bring to not only Sequoia and Kings Canyon, but also Parks all across the nation. “Most of it will go towards the general fund, but will see more specifics soon,” commented Kawasaki-Yee.