For beginning outdoor recreationists, the choices can be daunting. Deciphering form of recreation, desired location, and acquisition of necessary gear is just the start. The next step – determining whether a pass is required, then what pass and how to purchase – can be the most confounding.
Because of the diversity of public-land managers, visiting sites along a relatively small stretch in some states can require as many as four different passes – issued by the state, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and National Park Service.
The Park Service is stepping (back) into the morass, in an attempt to clarify and limit paper trails, by piloting digital passes. But until the agency, which is celebrating its centennial in 2016, decides on the best method, it may actually confuse the picture for a while.
When Everglades National Park in Florida gets online shortly, as expected, it will be the sixth NPS unit to offer digital passes – by one of three different vendors.
Everglades will use Smart Destinations, which sells multi-attraction passes for 11 major U.S. cities as well as the entire states of California and Florida.
San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park and, last week, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks in California began selling seven-day and annual passes via a free iOS app, soon to be offered for Android operating systems, from Viply.
In February, Acadia National Park in Maine was the first of the NPS units to begin selling electronic passes, via Your Pass Now, a website developed in conjunction with NIC Inc., a provider of official government websites, online services and secure-payment processing. Passes for Colorado National Monument and Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota also are available through Your Pass Now.
Acadia made the initial digital offering because it is believed that U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) was the first to press the Park Service to modernize and simplify its park pass system. Although Acadia does not collect entry fees until May 1, through October, it has sold more than 100 electronic passes, according to Kathy Kupper, an NPS spokesperson.
The NPS is using three different vendors in an effort to determine best practices for the agency and its visitors, Kupper added. The agency will collect data from the pilot programs for 18-24 months, she added, to shape a possible service-wide solution.
Presently, 127 of the 410 National Park Service sites collect entrance fees. The agency offers an assortment of annual passes, some free or discounted, that are described here. America the Beautiful interagency passes allow entrance to all federally managed public lands.
There will be no additional fees for online passes sold by the six pilot parks. After advance purchase, pass holders will be able to scan a code on their devices at the parks’ entrance booths. The electronic passes should be impossible to lose if stored on mobile devices and are non-refundable, non-transferrable, and non-replaceable if lost or stolen.
Photo: Electronic passes are sold for San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park and Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks on the Viply app.