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Federal parks access for seniors going from $10 to $80

July 17, 2017 GMT

HARLINGEN — One of the most popular senior benefits in the Rio Grande Valley is about to become a lot more expensive.

Once they hit age 62, U.S. citizens or permanent residents can purchase a Federal Recreational Lands Senior Pass for $10, allowing free entry to wildlife refuges, national parks and more.

But due to a new congressional mandate, that $10 lifetime pass is going up to $80 on Aug. 28.

The Senior Pass can be used at more than 2,000 sites managed by the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

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The Senior Pass has cost $10 since 1994. Until Aug. 28, seniors 62 years of age or older can still purchase the lifetime Senior Pass for $10.

Previously purchased Golden Age or Senior Passes will be honored for the lifetime of the pass-holder.

“They’re definitely very popular,” said Marion Mason, lead ranger at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. “In fact, we have people come out on their 62nd birthday to purchase it because they’ve been waiting and planning.

“It’s that big a deal, especially for folks who travel a lot,” Mason added.

The pass can be purchased for $10 before the deadline at a national park, wildlife refuge or other federal recreation area that charges an entrance or standard day use fee.

National wildlife refuges which have visitor centers, like Laguna Atascosa (payment via cash or check only) and Santa Ana, sell the popular passes and they are available for use immediately.

The passes also grant free entry to the Padre Island National Seashore beaches which can be accessed from Corpus Christi.

Mason said at Laguna they sell about a 100 of the passes every year.

“We have been seeing an increase in sales over the summer as word has gotten out that the price is going to increase,” Mason said.

The pass can also be obtained by mail or online from the U.S. National Parks Service for $10 before Aug. 28, but there will be an additional $10 charge for processing, for a total of $20. Due to expected high order volume, there could be delays of several months with online and mail-order processing.

The legislation Congress passed requires the price of the lifetime Senior Pass match the Interagency Annual Pass, which is currently $80. The additional funds raised will be used for critical infrastructure at federal facilities with recreational access.

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The legislation also introduces a new annual Senior Pass that can be purchased for $20. Seniors who purchase annual Senior Passes for four years can trade them in for a lifetime Senior Pass at no additional charge.

The Senior Pass, presented with a valid photo ID, covers all entrance fees and standard day use fees and may provide senior discounts for things such as tours or campsites.

The pass also waives the entrance fee for traveling companions. At per-vehicle fee sites, the pass admits the pass-holder and all passengers in a non-commercial vehicle. At a per-person fee site, the pass admits the pass- holder and three other adults. Children under 16 are always admitted free.

For more on the senior passes, visit https://store.usgs.gov/senior-pass