“It is one of the few benefits of growing old,” is how my late father often described his treasured Golden Age Passport, which gave him lifetime free access to all the U.S. national parks and recreation areas.
Back in Dad’s day, the pass was free.
He used that pass for 25 years, and every time he pulled it out of his wallet he got the biggest smile on his face. He just knew that, at last, he was getting something free from the government.
Today it’s known as the Senior/Access Recreation Pass and it costs a whole 10 bucks. But again, for the lifetime of the owner that is a pretty good deal. The only requirement is that you must be 62 years of age and a U.S. citizen or legal resident.
I got mine just past that birthday when we were in Florida for a convention. We spent a day at Everglades National Park and I showed my California driver’s license, paid the ranger $10 and was also set for life.
Recently another (not to be named in this writing) member of our household passed that magic #62 and next week we are heading to Joshua Tree National Park, where she will get her lifetime benefit card. While she is mildly enthused about having her own pass, she is less than thrilled with having to achieve the qualifying age. Thus, we will not disclose either her name or a more complete description.
Living this close to Yosemite National Park, our favorite place in all the world, it is ironic that neither of us will have obtained the pass at that place. In fact, we had scheduled a special birthday trek, with dinner at the Ahwahnee (yes it is still the wonderful Ahwahnee Hotel folks) but circumstances arose that took that off the gift list. So it shall be Joshua Tree and that will be good enough.
Actually, there is no special marking on the pass to indicate where you got it. It is simply “national,” which means it works everywhere.
I have used mine in Hawaii at a federally maintained lighthouse that charged entry fees. I used it for reduced camping fares at New Melones Reservoir, which is operated and maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers. It is good in many places that may surprise you.
It is not valid for state, county or local parks that charge a fee. It works only in those that are national or federally maintained.
Generally, you not only get yourself past the gate with no charge but the later edition of the Senior Pass allows the rest of your carload to get in as well. When taking more than one car up for the day for a group hike, this often means a quick roadside stop before the park entrance to swap passengers around so that each car has at least one of us qualified old guys on board. This may seem a bit unethical but, hey, I don’t make the rules; I just work with what they say.
Two years ago I wrote on these pages a piece defending the folks at Yosemite for raising the gate entry fee from $20 to $30, knowing full well that with my old-timer pass it did not apply to me. Yes, I know I should have felt a twinge of guilt in making that defense of the Park System, but regular readers know that guilt is not one of my regular habits.
So, look on the bright side of getting old. First of all, it is inevitable, and second, your federal government has a special present for you on the same day you qualify for early Social Security.
Dick Hagerty, an Oakdale real estate developer, is active in nonprofits. Send comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.