Seniors rush for national park passes before rate hike
Senior citizens are scrambling to get their lifetime national parks passes before the new, more costly “America the Beautiful” pass goes into effect nationally at the end of August.
For the first time since 1994, the lifetime pass will see a hike from $10 to $80 for seniors 62 and older, according to the National Parks Service.
The increase is tied to legislation passed by the U.S. Congress in December, which goes into effect on Aug. 28. Until then, seniors can grab lifetime passes at the existing, $10 rate.
The passes provide access to 2,000 sites, including Michigan’s three national parks; Sleeping Bear Dunes, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and Isle Royale National Park. The hike does not affect those who already hold the passes.
Due to excessive orders, there is a 10-week delay with online and mail order processing, said Brenda Barski, supervisor of the United States Geological Survey call center, which is selling the passes in collaboration with the National Park Service.
“We processed over 223,000 orders since December. There are at least 120,000 orders to process online and around 800-1,500 applications come in online a day,” Barski said.
The survey’s call center received more than 12,000 orders a day in August. Additionally, 64,000 applications have been mailed in. Of those, 40,000 have already been processed, she said.
“They blew up on us. These seniors are beating us to death in August and we’ve been doing this since December,” Barski said. “I have only six people answering phones here and we get 2,600 calls a day.”
There has been so much public interest in obtaining senior passes in Michigan, Hiawatha National Forest’s spokeswoman Janelle Crook said, that they are issuing a rain check system.
“The demand has exceeded availability of passes, however, United States Geological Survey has ordered additional passes and we are selling them directly and do currently have them in stock as of today, but when we don’t have them in stock, we are using a ... rain check system, instead of turning customers away,” Crook said. “It’s still a steal of a deal for a lifetime pass.”
Jeff Counts, 69, of Livonia, already has a lifetime pass, but said he’s concerned other seniors who don’t may not be able to afford the steeper fee.
“It angers me that the government spends all our tax money on things we don’t want and charges us extra for the things we want to do,” said Counts, who has written several Michigan travel guides and maintains the Facebook page Michigan: An Explorer’s Guide.
For those not interested in a lifetime pass, the National Park Service will issue an annual senior pass for $20 and when the senior has purchased up to four annual passes, they will automatically receive a senior lifetime pass.
The lifetime pass will also offer a 50 percent discount on some fees charged for facilities and services such as camping, swimming, boat launch, and specialized interpretive services.
The prior, Golden Age Passports will still be honored.
The pass can be purchased at:
■Federal recreation sites (see PDF) for $10
■Online at the USGS store for $10
■Through mail using an application form for $20.
Freda Tolar, a 60-year-old who lives in Mississippi, is an active traveler but not yet eligible for the senior pass. She was upset to learn the cost will be going up.
“I hate I’m missing my $10 pass,” Tolar said. “It’s one of those perks of getting older I’ve been looking forward to.”