National Park Service considers a digital park pass
Making a digital option for the American the Beautiful pass series that would live on mobile phone wallets is a goal shared by Sens. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Angus King (I-Maine), who introduced a bill that would require digital passes in February.
Park lovers might eventually be able to get digital versions of passes to federal recreational lands like national parks. The National Park Service is currently looking for information from potential vendors that would be able to help the agency issue and validate digital wallet passes under the America the Beautiful pass series.
The program is a series of eight different physical passes, currently made of plastic, with different prices and eligibility requirements that cover entrance fees to federal recreation sites. Up to 3 million passes are bought online and in-person annually, according to the RFI.
There’s growing interest in a digital version of the passes – Sens. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Angus King (I-Maine) introduced a bill in February that would make digital versions a requirement by 2024.
But digital passes would need to function across varied landscapes and conditions ranging from Glacier National Park in Montana to Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia. That includes places with poor internet connectivity, or none at all, and at understaffed parks without employees on hand to validate passes or payments, according to a request for information issued Thursday.
The push is part of a larger effort to streamline the program and make it easier to use.
Although the National Park Services runs the pass program, it’s actually doing it on behalf of five other agencies. And since the pass program started in 2007, more versions of the pass, criteria and other features have been added, making it more complicated for the public to understand and for the National Park Service to manage.
The interagency team that runs the pass program found as part of research done last year that park visitors are confused about where it works and how it works vis-a-vis other types of day passes, reservations and discounts across agencies and parks – and so are agency staff, according to an attached summary included in the RFI.
But funding and internet connectivity issues are seen as major barriers by management, the summary states, and making a digital pass a reality will require back-end updates, too.
Another ask from the National Park Service is a secure, interagency database with look-up capabilities and the power to control access and permissions associated with passes remotely.
“Pass customers and visitors want to know about real-time changes to the pass program, locations where their pass will be accepted and if there are any associated pass discounts, such as for camping, boat launching, etc.,” the RFI said.
“A centralized pass customer database with this information does not exist, which limits communication between customers and staff, as well as the ability to ‘look-up’ individual passes once they are sold.”
Having customer accounts and a central database would enable the National Park Service to make the passes renewable, “turn off” lost or stolen passes and upgrade existing passes.
Other points of interest outlined in the RFI are solutions that would enable automatic gate operation through both physical and digital passes and a centralized shopping cart across recreational government websites like agency-specific ones and recreation.gov.
In the meantime, the interagency team that runs the pass program will be pushing out efforts to standardize language around the use of “passes” in a growing landscape of permits, passes and tickets for recreational activities.
The online store for the America the Beautiful passes also has a new wizard to help visitors choose the right pass for their needs.