Visitors from Denver hike along one of the many trails off Golden Gate Road at Saguaro National Park west of Tucson.

Ron Medvescek / Arizona Daily Star

The cost of a lifetime senior pass covering entrance into all National Park Service sites in the country will skyrocket from $10 to $80 in the coming months.

Congress passed a measure in December mandating the fee increase for the pass, available to people 62 or older, said Kathy Kupper, a spokeswoman for the Park Service national headquarters in Washington, D.C.

But it could be months before the higher cost of a senior pass goes into effect.

“A lot of procedures have to be put in place to get it done,” Kupper said. “It could be seven or eight months, but it won’t go up for at least a couple of months.”

That hasn’t stopped some eligible senior pass buyers from acting quickly to nab a pass at the current $10 cost.

“We’ve already seen a spike in people coming in to buy a pass” after they learn of the impending price increase, said Andy Fisher, chief of interpretation and education at Saguaro National Park near Tucson. “They’re saying, ‘I need my pass now because the cost is going to go up.’ ”

The National Park Service Centennial Act, which authorized the fee for a lifetime senior pass, also created a new $20 annual pass for senior citizens.

That provides an option for seniors who can’t afford or don’t want to pay the $80 fee for a lifetime pass, Kupper said.

REASONS FOR INCREASE

Funds generated by the increased cost of the pass provide “a reasonable way to help ensure that parks are around for future generations,” Kupper said. “It’s also a way to enhance the visitor experience.”

“We’ve heard forever from seniors that the senior pass is the best deal going,” she said. “And we have heard that many people are OK with the increase. It’s still a great deal at $80 for life.”

Kupper also emphasized that most Park Service sites charge no fees.

“There are 414 National Park Service sites, and out of the 414 only 126 charge an entrance fee. The majority are free all the time.”

The $10 fee has been in place since 1994.

Nonetheless, some citizens and members of organizations oppose the increased cost of the senior pass.

“Why did they do that? It lays a burden on seniors,” said Kitty Benzar, president of the Western Slope No-Fee Coalition based in Durango, Colo. “There are a lot of seniors who are on fixed incomes.”

“It makes the parks less affordable and less welcoming,” said Benzar, whose group worked to do away with fees on the Catalina Highway near Tucson. “I’m advising people, if they’re eligible, to get a pass right away” before the higher cost goes into effect.

Contact reporter Doug Kreutz at dkreutz@tucson.com or at 573-4192. On Twitter: @DouglasKreutz