A pending price hike for the National Park Service's popular lifetime senior pass has people lining up at Gulf Islands National Seashore sales offices to purchase passes before the price goes up.
"We are seeing incredible demand for the senior passes throughout our park and throughout the entire National Park Service," Brent Everitt, a park ranger for Gulf Islands National Seashore, said Monday.
The price of lifetime passes for people ages 62 and older will go from $10 to $80 on Aug. 28.
Jeanne Thomas, a park employee who works at the campground office, said she normally sells just three of the passes each week during the busy summer season.
"But now we are going through probably five to seven in a day," she said.
The lifetime pass allows a senior and three other people traveling with the senior to enter any national park for free. The passes also give seniors discounts on overnight camping within the parks.
The cost of the passes is going up because of a Congressional mandate, Everitt said.
Gulf Breeze resident Regan Belcher, 84, has had his lifetime senior pass for years. Belcher, who visited the Fort Pickens campground office early Monday, said he hadn't heard about the price increase.
"I'm going to go home and tell everyone in my neighborhood to come out here and get their passes. We have a bunch of old folks on my street," laughed Belcher.
Gulf Islands National Seashore is comprised of a chain of barrier islands stretching from Mississippi to the Panhandle.
Everitt said the Fort Pickens portion of the park gets far more visitors than any other area of the park. Gulf Islands National Seashore averages about 4.5 million visitors every year with most of the visitors coming to Fort Pickens, he said.
Park Ranger Stace Wilson manned the main entrance booth to Fort Pickens early Monday. Wilson said she had sold about 30 of the senior passes before midmorning.
"Lots of people are asking about them," Wilson said as she greeted driver after driver and took their park-entry payments.
Everitt encouraged seniors not to wait until the last minute to purchase the $10 lifetime pass.
"We want to make sure everyone knows that we have passes, they are available and come out to the park and get them," he said.
For information about how to purchase the lifetime senior pass, visit: https://www.nps.gov/guis/planyourvisit/fees.htm
Lifetime senior National Park passes can be purchased at the following locations within Gulf Islands National Seashore:
- Fort Pickens entrance station, open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with extended hours on weekends
- Fort Pickens campground registration office, open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- Perdido Key Entrance Station, open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Opal Beach Entrance Station in the Santa Rosa Area, open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays