Are you a burden on the national park system?


    By Russ and Tiña De Maris

    Are you and your family a burden on the national park system? Are you disabled, and have an America the Beautiful pass that allows you and your car group free access to the nation’s parks? Are you a current or former military service member, and visit the parks free with an interagency military pass? How about those a bit up in years, do you come through the gates at no charge with a lifetime or annual Senior Pass?

    Chances are, many of our readers do have and use those passes. According to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, those of us that have those passes are the reason that the Park System wants to jack up the cost of entry to many of the big parks for everyone else. Earlier this month, Zinke told members of the U.S. Senate the reason for the fee hikes: “When you give discounted or free passes to elderly, fourth graders, veterans, disabled, and you do it by the carload, there’s not a whole lot of people who actually pay at our front door,” Zinke said. “So, we’re looking at ways to make sure we have more revenue in the front door of our parks themselves.”

    One way of “having more revenue in the front door” showed up last year when the agency multiplied the cost of a lifetime senior pass eight-fold, from $10 to $80. The Secretary declared this to be “the greatest bargain in America,” but depending on your budget, you might not look at it that way.

    Some members of the public took umbrage with Zinke’s viewpoint. The National Disability Rights Network, a nonprofit group that looks out for the rights of disabled people, stood up not only for its own group, but for others in a statement: “To blame a fee hike on admission to the most visited national parks on veterans, people with disabilities and the elderly is uninformed, hurtful, and frankly unconscionable. Collectively our national parks can be seen ‘as cumulative expressions of a single national heritage.'”

    But no matter your view of whether or not certain groups of pass users were blamed, or just used as an example, there could be more to the story. While making his statements to members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the Interior Secretary made another comment that might be a subject of concern for the future. “Basically, one person with a pass, everyone in that car comes in free. Now, whether or not that’s correct, we’re looking at it.” If you or your spouse bought a lifetime Senior pass, knowing that both of you could come in for free, are we looking at a time where both will need a pass? How about the military service man or woman, home on leave, who wants to take the family to see the Grand Canyon? Will there be a “grand expenditure” at the gate, for everyone but the pass holder?

    The future remains to be seen.


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    This may have a political ring to it to some, but I’m looking at this purely from a point of logic. I spent my time in Viet Nam being shot at, I pay my taxes (both State & Federal) and I have to pay to enter a Nat’l or State park. That is double dipping, for the Government to do that. My taxes are supposed to pay to maintain the Park System, yet they are charging taxpayers. Charging us to get (maybe) a level campsite and to experience the great outdoors. I would not mind paying an entrance fee or a campsite fee, only if I could get a decent site, level & not under crowded conditions. I hope what I said makes sense and strikes a chord with at least some of you out there. .


    For the secretary to make a statement like that is complete and utter madness! I am presently at kaibab forest 5 miles south of Grand Canyon and with a lifetime senior pass! When the price of EVERYTHING has been jacked up 300 % at park entrance villages and small towns as well as prices inside GCNP these people are making a windfall profit!
    The redeeming points? I camp in my trailer for 14 days free and park entrance is free! I feel sorry for the poor smucks who stay in the motels hotels . Oh and BTW most national parks lease out land for agriculture and livestock so for that A hole to cry poverty is madness!

    Jay French

    WoW !!!
    Please y’all who have nothing better to do while camping than continue to spew Politics from either side – never bother to engage me in conversation.

    I camp in National Forests a large percentage of the time & never at RV Resorts. Has zero to do with expense & everything to do with Resort maximization of space equaling noise & lack of privacy.
    Frankly I enjoy a wooded atmosphere, tranquility & relaxation as opposed to dogs barking, children screaming, another camper 15 feet away on both sides, endless golf cart races.
    Camper Resorts are for those whose budget can not afford Disneyworld with the hotel expense & restaurants.

    John T

    Chuck, you need to remove the political rants from this page.


    I am willing to bet that if congress gave up their pensions, health care, and some more of their perks and went on Social Security and paid for their own health care like the rest of us and that money went to the NPS they could improve the parks dramatically.


    National parks are being trampled to death and many have become outdoor Disneylands. Return them to their natural state and stop paving roads, opening shops and stores.

    We prefer boondocking but we never twitch at paying to enter state, national parks, BLM or any other natural spots. They are worth it but we need to maintain them and reduce cost wherever we can. If you are disabled under any circumstance and can not afford to pay, I can understand.

    I would actually like to see these areas go to all primitive camping such as tenting and boondocking. Take pictures and leave only footprints.

    CMS (Ret) Bill Maginot

    The military pass is only for active military members, not veterans.


    I the way I see it, we have an administration that has put people into positions/political office that they have no business being in! They are only being paid back for their $$$ support during the last election cycle. We have Cabinet positions being filled with incompetent people who don’t have a clue what their department is suppose to be protecting. Ryan Zinke is a PERFECT example of this!! The Dept of Interior is suppose to be protecting are National Park System, YET Zinke is “selling out” to big business and giving up our precious National Park lands & natural resources for BIG BUSINESS profits. I feel the at least 50% of the profits from their “Stripping” of the land should be poured back into the NPS, that would be a start in helping the Park system do the maintenance that is needed.


    Note: buying things while visiting a national park supports the (private, commercial) concession operation or the cooperating association that tries to fill some of the funding gaps with the money they take in.

    The national parks were never intended to “make money”. They are supposed to be available to all of us. Over the years, especially the last few decades, the NPS budge has been stretched tighter & tighter – no increases, or even cuts, as fixed costs went higher and higher – as more & more park units have been added without any additional funding provided for them. No wonder they’ve had to let some of the expensive maintenance issues slide. And the funding process – they have to ask for money for projects years in advance, so by the time they get the money to make a big fix, the costs have gone up and up and it’s not enough.

    I’d better stop now …

    Stephen Cronmiller

    And then there are others like me. Bought a Lifetime pass and so far…Have used it twice. in six years.

    jane shure

    Thanks to a draft dodger by the name of clinton I have to pay taxes on half of my social insecurity. When I consider the $1300-1800 per year I get stuck with paying every year I feel I am still being ripped off.

    Billy Bob Thorton

    So, $80 bucks, one time, to use the National Park System for the rest of your life (62+) is to much. No it is not. Let’s be fact based here, the last administration made the proposal. The current Commander in Chief donated the first 1/4 of his salary to the NPS.

    I am disheartened by all the uninformed here. Hope I was of help, setting the record straight.

    Thomas Bender

    The lack of compassion for the less fortunate who can’t afford 2 go on a real vacation and maybe want to get away for a weekend or two at a national park and you want to take that away from them because the federal government will not fund national parks properly. The most fortunate Among Us goes over to Tahiti St John’s Cannes France and now they have even more money after trumps tax cut while our children will be paying the national debt forever. Course the worst that my happen is this country goes completely out of control financially and then the flight grease and the other countries that had to be Dale out up like Greece and the other countries that had to be bailed out.


    I don’t think people understand that money is needed to upkeep everything. Our lovely national parks are not free. Now that the current administration has drastically reduced the budget for our parks and monuments, we citizens will be seeing the admission charges go up drastically. Perhaps now is the time to invest in a national trust program separate from our national government to care for our national treasures? I personally don’t trust our federal government to spend our tax money appropriately. While I can afford to pay more for admission to our parks, I know some can’t. I especially think veterans and the disabled and elderly should be allowed reduced fees.


    Wife and I are 2 who use passes for entry. Mine a Senior and hers a disabled military. I paid $10 for mine 10 years ago. We’ve been to the NPS access countless times since then … all for $10. So the National Disability Rights Network whines … my wife is disabled, I would be too except for the Senior Pass. How does this quality us, and millions of other pass holders, and everyone they can stuff in a vehicle for FREE, FREE, FREE, FREE. Just WHO is left to pay the costs?

    Everyone wants the parks maintained, good roads, services, maintenance, guard rails for the driving challenged, safety features, convenience features, security, clean-up after the pigs who throw their trash everywhere … get the point?

    My $10 Pass, over 10 years, means I’ve contributed well less than $1 per visit. I’m sure I’ve used up more than $10 worth of highway, and paid NOTHING to support anything else.

    But by golly, everyone get on the pity-pot and complain that they aren’t getting enough for FREE. It’s rapidly getting to that point where the ‘FREE’ is all well and good, until you run out of everyone else’s money.

    Richard Kuhwarth

    Perhaps Secretary Zinke is the real burden to the National Park System. All of our national treasures are threatened under his administration. Bristol Bay in Alaska is a prime example.


    I always buy things on each visit that exceeds the entrance fee even when their is nothing I need.