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Seniors rush to beat 800 percent price hike on National Parks lifetime pass

07/25/2017, 12:03am EDT
By By MATT MARKEY BLADE OUTDOORS EDITOR

This Jan. 14, 2015 file photo shows El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, Calif. ASSOCIATED PRESS

OAK HARBOR — If you want to start a revolt, tell a senior citizen the price is going up — the price of anything. If you want to create a full-blown panic, tell them the price hike will be 800 percent and it is coming just a month away.

That is the situation we are in regarding the lifetime Senior Pass for U.S. National Parks. You can buy it today (if you can find one) for $10, but on Aug. 28 the cost jumps way up the ladder to $80.

The Senior Pass is part of the “America the Beautiful” pass program and the “National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass Series”. It is the key to the magic kingdom of our natural wonders.

The lifetime Senior Pass is available to those 62 and older and it covers basic fees that might be in place at more than 2,000 federal recreation sites — national parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests and grasslands, and at lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The pass covers admission as well as standard amenity fees, such as day use fees.

Well, Congress slipped the rake hike into some legislation last December, with no firm date set for when the change would be official. The folks that run the parks and wildlife refuges got word recently that the hike takes place in just a month.

“August 28th was just recently communicated to us as the change date, and once that news got out, there has been an onslaught of panicked seniors trying to buy these passes before the price goes up,” said Justin Woldt, visitor services manager at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge.

The lifetime Senior Pass was originally free, but in 1994 a $10 fee was put in place. The upcoming rate change to $80 will make the lifetime Senior Pass cost the same as a regular annual pass for the park system.

“This has been needed for a long time, and there is a huge backlog of maintenance that needs to take place at the parks,” said Woldt, who added that a percentage of the fees collected stays at the site. “Since it has not gone up for so long, the price has not been keeping up with inflation.”

Although a pass is not required to visit Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, located east of Toledo on State Route 2 about 10 miles north of Oak Harbor, Woldt said the facility had been selling the senior passes as a courtesy and convenience.

“We sold out, and many other sites have exhausted their supply,” Woldt said. He has ordered 1,000 more senior passes and hopes they will arrive soon.

“Our supplier is getting a huge influx of orders from the field units, so it’s taking longer to get more passes. At this point, we are literally catching our breath between phone calls.”

Woldt urges people to call the refuge at 419-898-0014 before making the trip, to check on the supply of passes available. The National Park office at Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial at Put-in-Bay had some lifetime Senior Passes available Monday, but it is strongly recommended that you call the office at 419-285-2184 before taking the ferry to South Bass Island, since sales have been beyond brisk.

Maggie Beckford, the community engagement and information officer at Perry’s Memorial, said that in a recent three-day span, 90 of the passes were sold at the site. She has ordered 1,000 additional lifetime Senior Passes and expects them to arrive in a week.

“Of course the scramble is on because these are lifetime passes — the passes issued in 1972 are still valid and these are good for the life of the pass holder,” she said. “People have been literally lining up for these things.”

Beckford said that out of the 417 National Parks, only 118 charge a fee, but the lifetime Senior Pass is still a very good investment.

“It is a considerable savings,” Beckford said, since the pass allows all the occupants of a vehicle entrance in many parks and other federal sites. “I just urge people to call first to make sure we have the passes, and that someone is here to sell them.”

The lifetime Senior Pass is also available online, at store.usgs.gov/​pass, and information on the full line of national park passes for U.S. military, volunteers, and disabled individuals is available at nps.gov/​planyourvisit/​passes.htm. Online orders carry an additional $10 processing fee. All eligible Senior Pass orders that are postmarked before the Aug. 28 deadline will be honored at the $10 price for the pass, but because of the volume of applications it could take several months for the passes to be delivered.

Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6068.

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