August 28, 2017 will go down in the history of the National Park Service as the day that fees for lifetime senior citizen passes took a hike. This is the effective date for a steep, upward climb from $10 to $80. Senior passes are available to any American citizen or legal resident who is at least 62 years old, according to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park superintendent Bruce Noble. “It will last you the rest of your life. And, you don’t want to lose it; if you lose it, you’ll have to buy another one.”
“At the Black Canyon, in the last two months we have sold more of these senior passes than we have in the last four years. Everybody has been rushing to get them before the price goes up.” The passes can be purchased at the Black Canyon, or at the Public Lands Center, on S. Townsend, in Montrose. You can also buy them on the internet, but a $10 handling fee will be added.
Noble made his remarks at a recent meeting of the weekly Forum at Heidi’s, in Montrose.
“The other thing we’re looking at is an increase to our entrance fees,” said Noble. “I’m not going to make a statement here about where the entrance fee is likely to end up, because we haven’t made a final determination yet. But, we have asked for comments from the public; we’ve gotten some, but not a lot.” Noble went on to say that the response has been mixed.
The National Park Service is under a lot of pressure to increase fees, according to Noble. “A big part of the reason is the Park Service’s maintenance backlog,” he explained. “That’s basically about all the maintenance work that we’ve deferred—the buildings we need to fix, the trails we need to improve, the roads we need to pave, etc.” Nationally, the Park Service has “about $13 billion worth” of backlogged maintenance projects to take care of.
He is not optimistic about Congress picking up the check. “I don’t think we’re going to get all of that money, or even a majority of that money, from Congress. I don’t think we’re going to get it in one lump sum, or even several lump sums; the figure has gotten too large.”
On a more positive note, Noble told the audience that “80 percent of our entrance fee money stays here, with the Black Canyon and Curecanti National Recreation Area. It gets reinvested in our two parks.
“The other 20 percent goes into a Park Service-wide pot of money, and smaller parks that don’t have entrance fee programs of their own compete for funding out of that pot.”
Most of the money collected through entrance fees is earmarked for the deferred maintenance projects, Noble explained. “We’re now required to invest 55 percent of that 80 percent that we keep in these deferred maintenance projects. So, there’s a real emphasis on using our fee money to start whittling down that $13 billion backlog.”
Noble expects a decision to be made about the Black Canyon and Curecanti fee increases “in a couple of months.”