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Do seniors deserve public lands campground discounts?

March 26, 2010 by Bob Difley · 49 Comments 

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By Bob Difley

I can remember when I reached age 62 and bought my Golden Age Passport, what the Senior Pass was called back in the dinosaur era. For $10 I had lowered my campground fees for life by half. At least at the forest service, BLM, Corps of Engineers (COE),  and National Park Service (NPS) campgrounds, which accounted for more than 90% of the fees I paid for camping. Whoopee!

Then these government agencies discovered that they could avoid doing the work of collecting fees, cleaning bathrooms, picking up trash, and answering questions from the hoi polloi. Hire outside contractors to manage the campgrounds. But, of course, private contractors had to make a profit, so they raised the campground fees. Who knows what the contractors promised the FS and the other government agencies, but it certainly didn’t turn out to be better services–or any benefit–for campers.

So as prices went up, so did demands from the concessionaires, including many concessionaires refusing (agreed to by the various agencies, such as the NPS and COE) to accept the Senior (Golden Age) passes, culminating in the lost fight with the FS to have the 50% fee discount removed. But it won’t end there. In last week’s blog, Forest Service leaves 50% camping discount structure intact, many of you weighed in with your opinions, some commenting that maybe seniors shouldn’t even be getting a discount.

But maybe there is another solution, so I throw this out for discussion.

First, why do we need to bring in for-profit corporations? All that does is raise camping fees so that the concessionaire owners and their stock holders can put your money in their pockets. And you can bet that, if they can’t drop the discount, they will be lobbying to raise the fees. Not only that, but there is a law that stipulates that they cannot accept volunteer labor, they must pay workers and hosts, which raises their overheads.

So . . . what about returning the campgrounds to the FS on these terms:

  • All campgrounds will be operated by volunteers who will receive a free campsite with hook-ups for 20 hours of duty a week.
  • Two or three sets of volunteer hosts per campground, which costs the FS essentially nothing, would manage each campground seven days a week, and be responsible for all but heavy maintenance.
  • All campground fees would go to a separate operational fund that would pay for campground expenses, like maintenance, repairs, building restrooms and signs,  road repair, upgrades, etc. rather than be given to the General Fund.
  • Campground operation and cleanliness would be rated by a FS inspector (paid out of the campground fees) and the hosts of those achieving the highest ratings would receive a seasonal bonus, also paid out of the campground fees.

Hosts would not be hard to find, since most of us would appreciate the absence of camping fees and would enjoy having something constructive to do,  the challenge of improving the campground, life in a forest, talking with campers, and taking charge.

I’m sure someone will find something wrong with that idea, but that’s what this conversation is for. Think about it. What are our thoughts?

But then, there is always the alternative of boondocking, which you can do for free anywhere in the national forests outside of the campgrounds (at least for now). For more on boondocking check out my eBook, BOONDOCKING: Finding the Perfect Campsite on America’s Public Lands

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