Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Campers upset over U.S. Forest Service changes to "lifetime" discounts

This isn't the end of the world, but it irks those affected. They say a deal is a deal, even if you make it with the federal government.

Since the 1960s, the U.S. has sold passes for frequent visitors to national parks and other federal lands. The original "lifetime" deal was for free admission and a 50 percent discount on camping and related fees.

For Americans over 62 there was the "Golden Age Passport." For the disabled, the "Golden Access." For the rest of the public, the "Golden Eagle." The names have changed now, and the old cards are being phased out.

Jim and Linda Toth of St. Petersburg, like seniors across the country, took advantage. They've lived here 42 years and have camped the whole time, visiting the 48 continental states and Canada, too.

Their camper is a 25-foot "fifth wheel" that reaches over the bed of their GMC pickup. It has all the amenities, including a kitchen, fridge, microwave and satellite TV. They spend summers in it, volunteering at a U.S. Forest Service site in Colorado.

Jim plunked down his Golden Age passport, bought in 2001, on the table in front of me and pointed to a line of type below the title: "A Lifetime Admission Permit."

"Lifetime!" Jim stressed, tapping the card. "Lifetime!" He showed me a brochure saying the same thing.

But in December, the Forest Service proposed a reduction in the discount from 50 percent to 10 percent at places managed by private concessionaires, a little more than half the total number of sites.

"This is a big deal for seniors," said Toth, retired from 26 years of teaching at Pinellas Park High School. "A lot of seniors can't afford the full $22 or $16 or whatever a night to camp." For some it could mean hundreds a year.

The passes only cost $10. "But it's the idea," Toth said. "We have a contract here."

The Forest Service cites several reasons. The "very steep" 50 percent discount is too much for the private concessionaires, the agency says. There are a lot of seniors these days, with a lot more coming.

I talked with Jim Bedwell, director of recreation for the Forest Service. He pointed out there's still free admission, still a discount at sites managed directly by the government, and more benefits to come, including discounts on rentals of "day-use" facilities such as picnic grounds.

"What we're proposing," he said, "is only a small percentage of what those passes are good for."

To which Toth replies:


I talked to Jim and Linda's daughter, Peggy Higgins of St. Petersburg, who inherited the bug and camps with her husband Kevin, a disabled Army veteran. At Yellowstone a few years ago, park officers urged them to trade in Kevin's Golden Access pass for a new one. No more "lifetime."

"It was really deceiving, to be honest with you," Higgins said. "I put my opinion on their Web site and told them exactly how I feel."

Time is running out, but the public can comment on the proposed change until Feb. 1. Online, go to and look for Notice ID FS-2009-0001. By mail, write to: U.S. Forest Service, Attn: Carolyn Holbrook, Recreation and Heritage Resources Staff, 1400 Independence Ave. SW, Stop 1125, Washington, D.C., 20250-1125.

As I said, it's not the end of the world, but the campers think they had a deal. It's one thing for politicians to flip-flop — not Smokey Bear.

Campers upset over U.S. Forest Service changes to "lifetime" discounts 01/23/10 [Last modified: Saturday, January 23, 2010 9:41pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn donates $1,000 to move Confederate monument


    TAMPA — The fundraising effort to remove a Confederate monument from downtown Tampa has tripled its haul since Hillsborough County commissioners tied the statue’s fate to the success of the campaign.

    A check from Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn for $1,000 to remove the Confederate monument from downtown Tampa.
  2. President Trump: Nation's culture being 'ripped apart' by Civil War statue removals


    WASHINGTON — Showing his characteristic refusal to back down in the face of criticism, President Donald Trump deepened his defense of Confederate war memorials Thursday, sending out a series of messages on Twitter that adopted the language and arguments of white nationalists who have opposed their removal.

    President Donald Trump points to members of the media as he answers questions in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York on Tuesday. Republican leaders on Wednesday tiptoed around Trump's extraordinary comments on white supremacists.  [Associated Press]
  3. With election heating up, Bill Nelson floods Tampa Bay


    Sen. Bill Nelson seems to have set up a residency in Tampa Bay, a crucial area for his upcoming re-election campaign.

    Nelson campaigns with his wife in Orlando in 2012
  4. Martinez Middle School evacuated after bomb threat


    LUTZ — Bob Martinez Middle School has been evacuated after someone called in a bomb threat, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office said.

  5. Another local Confederate display sparks division, this one over name of the war


    TAMPA — While the Hillsborough County commission was wrestling over the future of Confederate monument at the county courthouse, a lawsuit has been playing out in court over how best to represent the Civil War across town at Veterans Memorial Park.

    Supporters of a Civil War display at Veterans Memorial Park and Museum had a brochure made to attract donations. They argue in a lawsuit that their efforts were thwarted when the park's executive committee changed their plans.