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Fee Hike Proposed For Older Campers

Starting next year, camping fees will dramatically increase for older Americans and people with disabilities using national forest campgrounds if a U.S. Forest Service proposal is enacted.

Currently, individuals age 62 and older and those with disabilities are eligible for lifetime passes that qualify them for 50 percent off camping fees in national forests. But private concession companies, which operate 82 percent of the reservable campsites in 4,731 campgrounds nationwide, have told the government that with the proportion of older Americans on the rise, they can’t afford the discounts any longer.

“The problem is that we’ve had more and more people getting senior discounts,” says Warren Meyer, spokesman for the National Forest Recreation Association, a concessionaire industry group.

In December, the Forest Service proposed cutting discounts for pass holders from 50 percent to 10 percent at privately managed campgrounds. The larger discount would remain in place at government-operated campgrounds, which normally are smaller facilities. The change would affect only national forests, not national parks or other federally owned lands. There is no set timetable for a decision by Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, but officials say if the proposal is enacted, it will take effect in 2011.

The increase would affect campers like Doris Gerhart, 87, of Spokane, Wash.

“With the economy the way it is now, people have to cut back on everything except for necessities,” Gerhart says. “Raising the cost probably will stop some people from going camping.”

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