In the summer of 2015 I worked collecting parking fees across the street from a popular trail in a National Forest. Many visitors tried to avoid paying to park their cars. I heard many reasons why people thought they shouldn’t have to fork over $5 to park, including I’m disabled, I’m a veteran, I’m a disabled veteran, I pay taxes, I have an America the Beautiful pass, I’m a senior citizen, I’m a local, and I paid to camp.
Some time after Labor Day when I thought I’d heard it all, in response to my request for $5, the woman driving said, I have a 4th grader.
I suppressed the urge to say, What the fuck’s that got to do with anything? and looked at her blankly (which wasn’t difficult since I honestly had no idea what she was talking about) until she handed over the cash.
When I told my coworkers about the woman and her 4th grader, they were as perplexed as I was. A 4th grader? So what?
Four months later Auntie Em and I visited the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. We were on a van tour of the Ajo Mountain Drive, and our driver was a lovely young ranger named Anna. As she made chit chat with us and the couple sitting int he first bench seat, Anna told us she wanted to make a career of working with kids on public (federal) land. She mentioned a program called Every Kid in a Park, and explained this program waived admission fees to public land for every fourth grader in the United States.
In an instant all became clear. The woman with the 4th grader thought she shouldn’t have to pay the parking fee because of the Every Kid in the Park program.
(According to the National Park Service,
To help engage and create our next generation of park visitors, supporters and advocates, the White House, in partnership with the Federal Land Management agencies, launched the Every Kid in a Park initiative. The immediate goal is to provide an opportunity for each and every 4th grade student across the country to experience their federal public lands and waters in person throughout the 2015-2016 school year.
Beginning September 1st all kids in the fourth grade have access to their own Every Kid in a Park pass. This pass provides free access to national parks, national forests, national wildlife refuges, and more!
Far down the list of official rules for the Every Kid in a Park pass it says
…some sites are managed by private operators. They may not honor the pass. Check with the site ahead of time to find out.
If the lady with the 4th grader had checked ahead of time, she would have found the parking lot I worked in was indeed managed by a private operator and did not honor the pass.
As Anna explained the Every Kid in a Park program, I wondered–if I lived long enough, would I eventually understand the reason for everything I experienced?
“I’m disabled, I’m a veteran, I’m a disabled veteran, I pay taxes, I have an America the Beautiful pass, I’m a senior citizen, I’m a local, and I paid to camp.”
Veterans, disabled veterans, disabled folks and seniors often get in free or half price to state or federal lands. It used to be true that if you paid to camp in federal cg’s, that day use nearby was free. The confusion is because there are so many sorts of programs and rules. Was there a sign at the parking lot saying it was run by a private contractor and other passes didn’t apply? Without that explanation, I would have been confused, too. When I first got my Access Pass a few decades ago, there were no private contractors that charged different amounts. Locals probably used to park for free before things were privatized. Paying taxes….well…..we all do and some people think that’s enough of a burden without extra fees. Life truly was simpler in the old days.
I totally hear you, Wendy. There is a lot of confusion due to the number of programs and the number of different KINDS of federal land. (I have plans for an upcoming blog post about the differences between National Parks, National Forests, National Monuments, BLM, etc, etc.)
There was a sign saying the parking lot was run by a private contractor, but lots of people didn’t read the signs, particularly while they were still in their cars. Also, the reader kind of had to get the end of the sign to understand the whole meaning. (If I were in charge, the sign would have been more to the point and easier to understand.) Also, the sign did NOT say “passes do not apply.” That apparently was my job.
I spent the summer stuck between feeling the frustration of confused tourists and doing the bidding of the company I worked for, which hired me to collect money. My goal this year is to have information and remain kind and compassionate while presenting it while still collecting $5 from each car. That’s my job. Collect the money.
I don’t really blame people for their confusion. I spend vast portions of my life confused. However, some people pull into the parking lot looking for a fight and wanting me to participate in their drama. I try not to do that. And some people act as if I am the enemy when I am doing what I am being paid to do. Those people are difficult to deal with, but I’m going to try to love them anyway.