Military retirees and other seniors over age 62 will soon have to pay more -- a lot more -- for lifetime passes to U.S. National Parks.
The current cost of a lifetime Golden Age pass for any user over 62 years old is $10. That fee will jump to $80 on Aug. 28 as part of legislation passed last year aimed at financing park improvements nationwide. The fee was last increased in 1994.
Seniors can purchase the pass online, by mail or in person at the current $10 fee until Aug. 27. Passes purchased online or by mail carry an additional $10 processing fee.
There is currently no discounted pass specifically for military retirees or veterans under age 62.
Veterans who have been ruled permanently disabled can receive a free lifetime disability pass, known as the Access Pass, by submitting Department of Veterans Affairs documentation to the National Park Service. A recent Capitol Hill proposal would expand that pass to all veterans with service-connected disabilities. It's unclear whether that legislation will be approved.
The increase brings the pass cost in line with the annual "America the Beautiful" pass for all other non-permanently disabled adult users. The 2016 National Parks law also established a new $20 annual senior pass. If seniors purchase an annual pass for four years, totaling an out-of-pocket cost of $80, they can trade them in for a lifetime pass at no additional cost, officials said.
The pass fee increase comes on the heels of other daily and annual entrance fee increases at individual parks across the system, paid by visitors who do not hold annual passes.
About 130 parks increased their entrance fees in 2015, while more increased camping and other amenity and rental fees. The cost increases are meant to help make up for budget shortfalls across the National Park Service, including a $12 billion deferred maintenance bill.
Senior pass holders may be able to use their pass to receive discounts on camping and other fees, depending on the park they are visiting.
Like the free military pass, the senior pass allows entrance for the passholder and any passengers accompanying them in non-commercial vehicles, or the passholder and three additional people over the age of 16, depending on the park.
The pass is available only to permanent U.S. residents.
-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.