Shirley and Tom Dunehew can’t remember how long ago they bought their National Parks Senior Pass. What they do remember, however, are the memories spent with family and friends inside some of America’s most treasured landscapes.
The Visalia couple has used their America the Beautiful —The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Senior Pass — to travel across the United States in search of waterfalls, canyons, giant trees and more.
All for the one-time payment of $10.
But for seniors looking to do the same, they will soon have to reach deeper into their pockets to do so.
For the first time since 1994, the National Parks Service will raise the price of the lifetime senior pass from $10 to $80.
“The additional revenue will be used to enhance the visitor experience in parks,” the National Parks Service said. “The funds from all senior passes purchased in a National Park will go to a National Park Foundation Endowment and a National Park Centennial Challenge Fund.”
The increase is the result of legislation passed by the U.S. Congress in December and will go into effect on Aug. 28. Until then, seniors 62 years and older are rushing to obtain their lifetime pass before the increase.
“I don’t think they should raise the price that much,” Shirley, 79, said, “We can afford to pay for it, but not everyone can. It’s too big of an increase.”
The lifetime and annual federal passes provide access to more than 2,000 recreation sites managed by six federal agencies including the National Park Service, US Fish & Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, US Forest Service, and US Army Corps of Engineers.
The passes cover entrance and standard amenity recreation fees and provide discounts on some expanded recreation fees.
With their lifetime pass, Tom and Shirley have visited Sequoia and Kings Canyon, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and more.
They also use their pass to get a discount on their yearly parking pass at Kaweah Lake, where they have a houseboat.
"Every time you go to the lake, it's $5 to park. It wouldn't take long to add up," she said. "It's $15 to park all year with our senior pass, so yes, it benefits us."
The senior pass also benefits family members of pass holders.
With the pass, pass owners and passengers in their car are admitted into national parks, waiving any entrance fees. It also provides discounts on expanded fees like camping, swimming, boat launching and guided tours.
Knowing the money will be used to help the park system, specifically Sequoia National Park, Shirley wouldn’t have a problem paying more, she said.
“There’s a lot of dead trees that need to be cut down and they say they don’t have the money to do it,” she said. “I wouldn’t mind paying it if it was for a good reason.”
Her husband, 78, doesn’t share the same sentiment.
When asked if he would pay $80 for the pass, he simply said "nope."
For those on a budget, a second option is available.
For $20, an annual senior pass can be bought and be used like the America the Beautiful Pass at all national park and federal recreational land locations.
Buy your pass
Lifetime passes can be purchased for $10 until Aug. 27 at any federal recreation site that charges an entrance fee. In the Central Valley, passes can be purchased at Sequoia, Kings Canyon and Yosemite national parks.
For a complete list of sites, visit https://store.usgs.gov/sites/default/files/PassIssuanceList.pdf.
Passes can also be purchased online or through the mail from United States Geological survey at https://store.usgs.gov/senior-pass.
The price will increase on Aug. 28.
For more information, visit www.nps.gov.