Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

Press Release

March 10, 2010

Eileen Larrabee
Dan Keefe

State Parks Proposes Access Pass Eligibility Reforms

Expected savings of $1 million will stave off further park closures

The New York State Office of Parks Recreation and Historic Preservation today proposed changes to its Access Pass program, which provides state residents with certain permanent disabilities free or reduced cost admission to parks, cabins, campsites, golf courses, historic sites and recreational facilities operated by State Parks and the Department of Environmental Conservation. The changes would save the state approximately $1 million annually and reduce the potential for abuse within the system.

"Since the Access Pass was adopted in 1977, it has grown well beyond its original intent. What started out as a program intended to provide recreational opportunity to individuals with specific disabilities has expanded dramatically over the past 30 years," said State Parks Commissioner Carol Ash. "We have reached a point where 65 percent of current Access Pass holders are qualified under non-statutorily- authorized categories. And the result is millions of lost revenue and media accounts that question the integrity of the overall program."

Under the proposed revisions to state regulations, two of eight eligibility categories for the Access Pass will be eliminated. As part of the change, the "semi-ambulatory" category will be eliminated. Also, individuals receiving federal Social Security Disability, Supplemental Security Income or Railroad Retirement Board Disability will no longer be automatically eligible for the Access Pass. These categories are not specified in the 1977 state law that led to the creation of the Access Pass, but were subsequently added administratively. Individuals who are blind, deaf, non-ambulatory, amputees, disabled veterans, or who have a mental disability will continue to be eligible for the program.

The changes are the result of an internal review of the Access Pass program, which was launched in 2008 following reports in the New York Times regarding an overwhelmingly disproportionate number of Long Island Railroad retirees who received federal disability benefits, and therefore were able to play golf for free at State Parks golf courses with the use of an Access Pass. Disabled LIRR retirees are among those who will no longer be automatically eligible for the Access Pass.

Statewide, approximately 34,000 individuals currently hold an Access Pass, and receive $3 million in waived fees and charges for use of state recreational facilities, including:

  • $1.5 million in golf fees for over 57,000 rounds of golf, ranging from $7 to $60 for 18-hole courses;
  • $1 million in base fees for camping and cabins, which cost $13 to $15 per night for campsites and $145 to $255 per week for cabins; and
  • $400,000 in park entrance fees, which range from $6 to $10 per vehicle.

Ash said the two eligibility categories proposed for elimination account for 65 percent of all current Access Pass holders, and would increase state revenue by approximately $1 million. The revenue estimate is built into the 2010-11 fiscal year budget plan that already calls for closing and reduced operations at dozens of state parks and historic sites.

Ash noted individuals who lose eligibility as part of these changes can reapply if eligible through the six remaining categories.

Specifics of the proposed rule change can be found at under the "Inside the Agency" heading. State Parks will accept public comments on the proposed regulation until May 3, 2010. Comments can be submitted to State Parks' via email to rulemaking @, by regular mail to OPRHP Counsel's Office, Empire State Plaza, Agency Building 1, Albany, NY 12238, or faxed to (518) 474-5106. The changes would be in effect for the upcoming operating season.