The U.S. Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture have announced a new interagency recreation pass that will benefit visitors to national public lands.

The new program, authorized by Congress under the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act in December 2004, combines the benefits of existing recreation passes from five federal agencies into one comprehensive pass: the America the Beautiful--National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass.

The pass covers recreation opportunities on public lands managed by four Department of the Interior agencies--the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and the Bureau of Reclamation--and by the Department of Agriculture's U.S. Forest Service.

Access to most public lands remains free. The pass applies to those locations that currently have entrance or standard amenity fees.

The new program replaces the Golden Eagle, Golden Age, and the Golden Access Passports as well as the National Parks Pass. Existing passes will remain valid until expired, lost, or stolen.

Sales of the new pass will begin in January 2007 and will be available at federal recreation sites that charge entrance and standard amenity fees, through government internet sites, and through select third-party vendors.

The agencies see the pass as a cost-effective and easy option for those who plan to visit multiple federal recreation sites. Visitors will be able to travel from a site managed by the Department of the Interior to a site managed by the Department of Agriculture without getting a different pass.

Officials note that annual interagency pass revenue will benefit public lands by providing funds for maintenance, new visitor services, and programs. Fully 100 percent of the revenue derived from passes sold at federal recreation sites will directly benefit the selling agency and no less than 80 percent of the revenue will remain at the site where the pass was sold.

The four different passes in the new interagency program are:

1. A new annual interagency pass costing $80 for visitors to multiple federal sites that offers unlimited coverage of entrance and standard amenity recreation fees for a specific period of time, typically a year, beginning from the date of first use;

2. A $10 lifetime senior pass for U.S. citizens 62 or over;

3. A free lifetime access pass for citizens with permanent disabilities; and

4. A new, free, annual volunteer pass for volunteers acquiring 500 hours of service on a cumulative basis.

The new interagency pass is good at vehicle-based entry sites for all occupants in a single, non-commercial vehicle. At walk-up sites, the pass is good for the pass holder and three adults (total of four adults). There is no charge for children under 16. This represents a cost-effective opportunity for families traveling to federal recreation sites. For comparison purposes, Parks Canada offers a family/group annual pass for about $140.

Some specific examples of projects funded with fee revenues include: rehabilitating the Yellowstone National Park Canyon Visitor Center and creating new exhibits at Yellowstone National Park; enhancing boat launch facilities on the Tonto National Forest in Arizona; building an accessible boardwalk at Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest in Wyoming; and improving the museum at Desoto National Wildlife Refuge in Iowa.

The new passes--which feature award-winning landscape photographs of federal lands--are part of a new interagency "Share the Experience" Annual Federal Lands Photo Contest. The contest, sponsored by the National Park Service, the National Park Foundation, and Casio, encourages visitors to submit photos of federal lands for a chance to have their image chosen for the next year's annual pass.

The passes will be durable, plasticized, and designed with technology that will enable future improvements to the program.