Forest Service Proposes Cuts to Camping Discounts

Lifetime Golden Age PassportWhen is something that is good for a lifetime not good for a lifetime? Evidently when it’s issued by the United States Forest Service. That’s what some holders of the agency’s Golden Age and Golden Access passports are saying, in response to a proposal that would lower the card’s discount on camping fees.

Forest Service Park PassesSince 1965 the Forest Service has offered three types of passes valid for free entry into federally-managed parks, throughout the country. The Golden Age Passport, for senior citizens and the Golden Access Passport, for disabled citizens, are both lifetime passes that provide the pass holder with a 50-percent discount on camping fees, in addition to free entry into the parks.

The third type of pass was called a Golden Eagle Passport, and was offered to anyone on an annual basis. Unlike the Golden Age and Golden Access passes, however, the Golden Eagle was not a lifetime pass and it did not provide a discount on camping fees. Recently, the Forest Service has proposed cutting the 50-percent discount to 10-percent, which has people wondering what has happened to their “lifetime” contract.

Sequoia National Park

In 2007, the Golden Age, Golden Access and Golden Eagle passes were replaced by the Senior Pass, Access Pass and Annual Pass. A fourth pass was also added, the Volunteer Pass, for people who volunteer on Federal lands. The Forest Service has continued to honor the 50-percent discount on camping fees offered by the (now) Senior and Access passes – despite the fact that the enabling legislation for the newer cards, the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act of 2004, did not provide for this benefit.

There are several issues in play, here. For one, the Forest Service does not operate very many of its own parks, anymore. Private concessioners now manage approximately half of the Forest Service campgrounds and an even higher percentage of the more developed campgrounds that accept reservations.

Yosemite National Park

Second, our nation’s demographics are working against the Forest Service. According to the agency, between 2001 and 2006 the number of camping nights sold to Senior and Access pass holders by private concessioners was 7.4 percent. By the end of 2007 that number had grown to 11.4 percent and the agency is projecting it to hit 17 percent by 2022. - Submit Comme

The public has until February 1st to comment on the proposed change. To comment, visit and enter FS-2009-0001 in the search box. The Submit a Comment link will be displayed on the search results page, as shown above.

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16 thoughts on “Forest Service Proposes Cuts to Camping Discounts

  1. I am trying to find where to find the application to fill out for the card for my father, if anyone knows where to go let me know please. We live in West Virginia.

  2. The concessioaires appear to be complaining that their profit margins are down due to the 50% discounts. I base my following comments on the only National Forest CG we use-and love so we go back. I have no issue paying to stay in a CG, and I would be willing to pay a bit more so the seniors/disabled could still enjoy thier discount.

    All we get for our $12 per night is a site, garbage dumpster, and outhouses cleaned. However, I have to rake/clean our site when we get there. I’ve had to clean out the fire pit. The outhouses have been in need of pumpout so badly, that even I refuse to use them-they are clean, but need to be pumped out.

    After a group left, their fire smoldered for five days(huge logs) and the host never did a thing to put it out. (I know that I should have doused it-my apologies to Smoky Bear-, but we wanted to see if the host did anything which he didn’t).

    Three years ago after a microburst took down several trees, who came in for the cleanup? Not the host/concessionaire, but the Forest Service. If the concessionaire wants to run the CG, he should then run it, and not wait for the USFS to come in and save the day. He gets the good and the bad.

    So, if they want to get rid of the discount and/or raise fees, I expect something in return. Thanks for listening!

    • I don’t disagree, JC. I feel the same way about the California initiative to add an $18 fee to vehicle registration to fund the parks. I expect something a bit more than just the parks staying open, since I’m already paying for that through my taxes and camping fees.

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  4. ok more thoughts on this.
    What’s that folk song?….
    “This land is your land, this land is my land
    From California, to the New York Island
    From the redwood forest, to the gulf stream waters
    This land was made for you and me”
    Yep that was the thought we grew up with.
    I suppose the Indigenous Americans are laughing at us.

  5. When I started reading this I was thinking…well if by paying full price we keep the parks open, I was ok with that. Then at the bottom you say a lot of the campgrounds are run by private companies, I wasn’t willing to pay full price to a private company when I had been promised a life-time pass, etc. I would love to be able to get to some of those forests and will pay full price to get in if needed. Unfortunately the whole discussion is bigger then just a senior pass. Thanks for the heads up and I will go voice my opinion.

    • I feel the same way, Jenn – I’m happy to support the parks, but am I supporting the parks, or some private concessionaires bottom line?

      • I don’t know what the answer is, but if private concessionaires are running the campgrounds they can only afford to do so while they are making a living doing it. I don’t think these are big businesses making big bucks, they’re probably small, family run businesses. If they don’t earn enough doing this there will be less campgrounds, and/or the quality of the services provided will suffer.

  6. We have wrestled with senior discounts for years and with all the Federal public land in Virginia this 50% discount would have killed us if not for the fact folks like our locations and facilities. We use our camping revenues to supplement the state tax funds we receive so our operational funding would be cut if we offered a comparable discount. This means we would have even less money to operate with or the state would have to offset the lost revenue. That’s not likely to happen either.

    It is problematic for the Forest Service when they do not operate their own campgrounds since a for profit business doesn’t get supplemental federal money. The demographics are a killer. I was a manager for a small symphony orchestra once and many of the subscribers asked about senior discounts. At that time we would have had to double the fees for non-seniors to offset the discount because subscribers were so heavily senior.

    As I approach senior citizen age, I see the value of the discount, but when it comes to public recreation facilities the question is whether one segment of the population should pay less for the facilities than another and have the difference made up with public funds.

    Of course the issue of what was promised at the time the pass was sold is a separate consideration. At one point we offered a lifetime senior pass for parking. When we stopped offering that pass, more than 15 years ago, we agreed to continue to honor the pass. We still have people who are using it.

    • Nancy – I think you described the problem much more succinctly than I did! Bottom line, it looks like the fees are going up for all of us, whether the Forest Service continues to honor the 50% discount for seniors and the disabled, or not.

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  7. I didn’t even know there were Forest Service passes. Maybe because I don’t fit into the first two categories. I guess around here there just aren’t Forest Service parks; I’ve never had to pay a FS fee. All the FS land is free to access. Most of the campgrounds charge a fee, of course. We have a NPS annual pass that we use regularly.

    OK, I’m going to comment now.

    • We don’t have one, either, Mel. I guess if we went to Yosemite ($20 per car) more often, it would make sense to get an annual pass ($80).