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Senior discounts at national parks may be on the chopping block

Older Americans could have to pay more to camp under a controversial plan to privatize the nation's parks.  

proposal submitted last month by the "Made in America" Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee to the U.S. Interior Department would eliminate discounts for seniors during the peak summer camping season. Seniors would have to pay full price to access National Park Service campgrounds like California's Yosemite National Park or Big Bend in Texas.

The idea has drawn fire from advocates for seniors, who say access to national parks for older Americans has been constrained under the Trump administration. In 2017, the Interior Department increased the cost of a lifetime senior pass from $10 to $80. It was the first price hike for senior passes since 1994.

"What's most troubling with this proposal is that seniors have already paid for this senior pass and they would have to pay twice during the blackout period," said Bill Sweeney, senior vice president of government affairs at AARP. "We think that if someone paid they should get what they paid for and be able to enjoy a national park just as much as anyone else." 

After forming in 2017, the recreation advisory panel unnerved conservation advocates after it included concessions-industry executives among its lineup, including representatives from Aramark Leisure and Delaware North. Conservation experts are concerned that business interests are seeking to privatize public services just as the Trump administration is proposing to slash the National Park Service's budget by about $495 million to about $3.5 billion next year. 

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The federal agency already introduced electric bikes in federal parks in August. But the proposal also wants to evaluate other services like food trucks, broadband internet service and overnight tent rentals in campsites. In a comment to the Los Angeles Times, Derrick Crandall, vice chairman of the committee and a counselor with the National Park Hospitality Association, also wants camp goers to opt in for services like Amazon deliveries to their campsites: 

"Our recommendations would allow people to opt for additional costs if they want, for example, Amazon deliveries at a particular campsite," Crandall told the LA Times. "We want to let Americans make their own decisions in the marketplace."

An Interior Department spokesman said in an emailed statement to CBS MoneyWatch that the recreation advisory committee was terminated on November 1 as part of a regular review of federal advisory committees. 

David Vela, deputy director of the National Park Service, said in an additional statement: "No action has been taken on the committee's recommendations nor will any action be taken in the future unless and until the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service determine the recommendations will improve the visitor experience, protect national park resources, and are determined to be prudent investments." 

Vala added, "NPS does not intend to modernize every campground but strives to make smart, consistent decisions on when to modernize or rehabilitate a campground based on the park's unique circumstances, local market and financial factors, and applicable policies and regulations."

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