By Russ and Tiña De Maris
If you have a senior pass for the national parks, you could be in for surprises. Seniors already received an unwelcome surprise when lifetime passes for the over-62 set jumped from $10 to $80 a couple of years ago. Now a new recommendation may just cut big benefits to those who hold the America the Beautiful Pass.
The U.S. Department of Interior Department set up the Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee during former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s administration, prior to his removal from office. A subcommittee of that group – the Subcommittee on Recreation Enhancement Through Reorganization – is tasked with advising “the Secretary of the Interior on public–private partnerships across all public lands.”
The subcommittee recently came out with a laundry list of suggestions for the now-Secretary of Interior, David Bernhardt. Among them is one that would have a huge impact on senior park users. It reads: “Confirmation of current practices that 50% senior discounts offered to campers over the age of 62 (established by the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act) apply only to base campsite fees, and introduction of new senior fee blackout periods during peak season periods.”
Let’s take a little look at what’s being said here. The subcommittee is suggesting that to help parks deal with maintenance backlogs and to bring them up to a more modern state, seniors will have to bite the bullet. “Senior discounts … apply only to base campsite fees …”. At present, senior pass holders get a 50 percent discount on any campsite fees, not just “base” site fees. But look a little closer – the operative word is “only.” Under current practice, senior pass holders also get half-off discounts on things other than campground fees.
A federal government website says of the pass, “May provide a 50 percent discount on some amenity fees charged for facilities and services such as camping, swimming, boat launch, and specialized interpretive services.” Those “specialized interpretive services” translate to guided tours, and may include transportation systems where fees are charged. So, if we interpret the thinking of the subcommittee, say goodbye to any discounts on upcharges on campsite fees. Say adios to discounts on special tours. No more discounts on park-service-provided transportation fees. So long to discounts for boat launch use and fees paid for swimming areas.
But what some will probably consider the most egregious jab at America’s seniors is the “introduction of new senior fee blackout periods during peak season periods.” Planning a summer camping trip in a national park? If the subcommittee’s suggestion is turned into practice, be ready to pay full-freight on your campsite. And don’t think the subcommittee’s ideas would stop at national park fence lines. The subcommittee writes, “The lessons learned with near-immediate operational changes in national parks can be then replicated for other Interior bureaus, including the Bureau of Land Management, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Reclamation and, cooperatively, on American Indian lands.”
Other suggestions which promote a greater involvement of private industry in park management and “enhancement” have been blasted by a variety of groups as things they say would shut out lower-income Americans from the nation’s parks. Just how Interior Secretary Bernhardt will receive these ideas is yet to be seen. But in these times of instability in nearly every human sphere, there could well be even more instability for park users in the offing.