The deadline is fast approaching for those National Park Service fans who are planning to visit as many of America’s scenic and historic destinations as possible in their retirement years.
U.S. citizens and permanent residents age 62 and older have until Aug. 27 to purchase a lifetime senior park pass for $10, rather than the $80 it will cost starting Aug. 28. The $10 fee has been in effect since 1994, but federal legislation passed last year increased the fee.
Those wishing to buy their lifetime senior park pass online or through the mail can do so at a U.S. Geological Survey store site, although the agency says it is experiencing a backlog in processing them and has partnered with Your Pass Now to help with the task. Visit https://store.usgs.gov/senior-pass to tackle the purchase online or click here to print out a mail application.
Applications via mail or online come with a $10 processing charge on top of the $10 lifetime senior pass fee. Online applications are being processed within 12 weeks, although the USGS says on its site that, “Until the current backlog of senior pass orders are shipped, your order confirmation will be honored for use at agency sites.”
There are 59 national parks in the United States and its territories, with nearly 120 more national monuments. Not all of them charge an entrance fee, such as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that straddles the Tennessee-North Carolina border. In fact, only 118 of 417 National Park Service sites do charge to enter.
But many of the iconic parks in the West — such as Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Zion, Arches and Rocky Mountain — do have fees to enter them and the charges can pinch the wallet. For instance, Yellowstone, America’s first national park, charges $30 per private vehicle and $25 per motorcyle. The passes also allow the official holder and three additional adults to enter a site that charges a per-person fee for free.
Aside from the National Park Service, federal agencies that accept the lifetime senior passes are the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Reclamation. In all, there are 2,000-plus recreation sites operated by the agencies.
The legislation passed in 2016 earmarks where the additional money brought in by the lifetime and annual senior passes will go. The first $10 million collected each year goes to the National Park Foundation Endowment, which is managed by the National Park Foundation. That cash will be used for programs and activities at parks.
Money raised through the fee increase beyond $10 million each year is destined for the National Parks Centennial Challenge Fund, which goes to special projects and programs, along with improvement of visitor facilities. However, it requires a match from non-federal organizations.
The passes can be purchased at parks and sites that charge an entrance fee. Those buying them must be able to show proof of age and residency. For most people, a valid state driver’s license will suffice.
Those not yet age 62, but who are on a budget and don’t want to plunk down $80 at once for a senior lifetime pass, have an option. The 2016 legislation allows them to purchase a newly created annual senior pass for $20. Those who buy an annual pass for four years can have it converted to a lifetime pass for use thereafter.
There are a dozen National Park Service sites in Georgia. They are Andersonville National Historic Site, Appalachian National Scenic Trail, Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, Cumberland Island National Seashore, Fort Frederica National Monument, Fort Pulaski National Monument, Jimmy Carter National Historic Site, Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, Ocmulgee National Monument and Trail of Tears National Historic Trail.
In Alabama, there are nine parks or sites. They are Horseshoe Bend National Military Park, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail, Natchez Trace Parkway, Russell Cave National Monument, Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail, Trail of Tears National Historic Trail, Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site and Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site.