A WIN FOR THE PEOPLE
The Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965 established the Golden Age (age 62 and up) and Golden Access (disability) passes, and specified that they entitle the holder to a 50% discount on camping fees.
The 2004 Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act eliminated those passes and replaced them with the “America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands” Senior and Access passes. The new passes are the same price and still good for the lifetime of the passholder, BUT the 50% camping discount is not specified in the new law. FLREA says that Golden passes must continue to be honored according to the terms at the time they were issued, but only “to the extent practicable.”
After passage of FLREA, U.S. Forest Service policy continued the 50% discount and required their concessionaires to do so as well, but for those holding FLREA passes that was policy, not law.
In 2010 the USFS proposed to upend this longstanding Senior/Disabled pass policy. They published notice in the Federal Register that concessionaires – which manage at least 80% of the most highly developed campgrounds – would no longer have to honor the 50% camping fee discount. At developed picnic sites, where under agency management any fee would be covered in full by the passes, concessionaires would only have to give a 10% discount. This would have made camping and picnicking on a National Forest un-affordable for many seniors and permanently disabled persons, including disabled veterans.
Sales of Senior and Access passes account for more than 78% of all pass sales. The proposed new policy originated directly from the concessionaires, who see the increasing number of people qualifying for Senior and Access passes as a direct threat to their profits.
The proposed change was announced in the dead of winter in the Federal Register – hardly routine reading for most people. The WSNFC sounded the alarm, and people all over the country responded. After receiving more than 4,000 overwhelmingly negative comments, and after the Forest Service Chief was grilled at a congressional hearing, the proposal was withdrawn after less than 3 months.
You can read more about this major victory for ordinary citizens below.
After the proposal was withdrawn, we obtained all of the comments – over 4,000 of them – under the Freedom of Information Act, and produced this White Paper analyzing them. A surprising finding was that many people used this opportunity to express their opposition to concessionaire management in general, not merely to this change in discount policy.
WSNFC Analysis of Proposal and Comments
WSNFC alerted our congressional contacts to the impending policy change, and the Idaho and Oregon delegations responded.
Idaho Delegation Opposes Concessionaire Proposal
Oregon Senator Opposes Concessionaire Proposal
Here are some of the comments that were submitted by ordinary people and that were shared with us. See our Analysis paper posted above for a complete analysis of public comments.
Concessionaires and Passes: WSNFC comment
Forest Service Responds
Art Jeffers, the number two person for recreation at the Forest Service, sent the following in response to a message from Arizonan Stephen Sample opposing the proposed change in concessionaire pass-acceptance policy. Responses to Mr Jeffers from both Sample and WSNFC President Kitty Benzar follow.
Here is the comment letter sent by the American Recreation Coalition, in which the ARC solidly supports the profits of their concessionaire members over the public good. The ARC is proud to say that they invented Fee Demo and they advocate for the complete privatization of recreation on public lands. Also posted is a press release from the National Forest Recreation Association, the lobbying arm of the concessionaires and another driving force behind the privatizing of recreation on public lands. The president of NFRA also wrote a letter on behalf of his firm, Recreation Resource Management, to the Forest Service and that is posted as well.