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The Value of the National Parks Pass


    It's now been more than five months since the National Parks Pass was summarily booted from the National Park Service, replaced by another, more expensive, piece of plastic dubbed America the Beautiful.
    Whether it will be resurrected is hard to say. While I understand there have been grumblings in some corners and hopes Congress might revive it, that's hard to predict at this point. Whether the general public really cares about the passing of the National Parks Pass is hard to say, as well.
    But there are some within the National Park Service who realized that the value of that card went beyond its $50 pricetag.
    My National Park Pass is my membership in a club whose members believe that national parks are special places. My pass connects me to those places and at the same time allows me to support them. I like the value and the connection it gives me with the parks. The National Park Pass is a powerful tool for creating a feeling of stewardship for the parks among the public. The pass is as much about stewardship as it is about park entrance.   

    Those sentiments were shared by Corky Mayo, the Park Service's chief of interpretation, during a speech he made back in January 2000. Of course, at the time no one envisioned that the National Park Pass's days were numbered.
    But I'm sure many of the folks who handed over $50 for that pass felt the same, that they weren't simply buying a pass to get into a national park, but rather investing in the national park system. Can the same be said of the ATB pass?
    My current Parks Pass has about one month left on it. I'll then either have to buy one of the $80 ATB passes, simply pay the weekly entrance fee whenever I want to visit a park, or shun the park system entirely as a silent protest to the Bush administration's decision to diminish the image of the national park system by forcing it, along with the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife System, and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, to pool their revenues.
    This is not to diminish those other agencies. But I think it's safe to say the national parks long have been treasured as America's unique commitment to stewardship, preservation, and conservation.
    By tossing aside the National Parks Pass and replacing it with the ATB, I believe the administration skewered Mr. Mayo's belief that "the pass is as much about stewardship as it is about park entrance."

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