Why Yellowstone Is Selling a Park Pass for the Year 2172

The national park’s fundraising arm is offering the futuristic pass for a $1,500 donation that will help preserve and protect wildlife, natural resources

Bison at Yellowstone National Park
Millions of visitors flock each year to Yellowstone National Park, which is known for its thermal features and abundant wildlife. The park's nonprofit partner is offering a park pass for the year 2172 for a $1,500 donation. Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park celebrated its 150th anniversary on March 1. Now, in an effort to preserve the site for future generations, the park’s nonprofit partner, Yellowstone Forever, is selling an annual entrance pass that will be valid 150 years from now, in 2172, reports Brett French for the Billings Gazette.

The Inheritance Pass is available for a $1,500 donation to Yellowstone Forever, the education and fundraising arm of the 3,472-square-mile national park, which spans northwestern Wyoming, southeastern Idaho and southern Montana. Yellowstone is known for its thermal features and abundant wildlife, including buffalo, grizzly bears and wolves.

According to an FAQ on Yellowstone Forever’s website, proceeds will go toward current projects that “protect wildlife, preserve resources and enhance visitor experiences.” In addition to securing entry to the park in 2172, the Inheritance Pass guarantees donors complimentary admission to Yellowstone for the next year.

Geysers erupting at Yellowstone National Park
Geysers erupting at Yellowstone National Park Service

“The pass itself is … like part of your family estate,” Lisa Diekmann, Yellowstone Forever’s president and CEO, tells the Gazette. “It will be part of your family’s legacy.”

Noting that the 2172 pass might get lost in the next 150 years, the organization writes on its website that it plans to keep records of all owners. Passholders will most likely be able to bring “one solar-powered flying car’s worth of your future loved ones” into the park with them, per the cheeky FAQ.

Advertising agency Havas Chicago came up with the idea for the pass and shared the concept with Yellowstone Forever pro bono.

Yellowstone was the 12th-most visited national park in 2021, with a record 4.9 million recreational visits. Like other parks and road trip–accessible outdoor spaces, Yellowstone experienced a surge of visitors in 2021 as coronavirus pandemic restrictions eased and people began traveling again. The sudden influx strained the park’s employees and facilities.

“[G]etting that increase in just a 12-month period made it hard to react fast enough,” Yellowstone superintendent Cam Sholly told the Guardian’s Annette McGivney in January. “... All of a sudden, we are having to clean the bathrooms five times a day instead of three.”

The pandemic also affected Yellowstone Forever, which laid off employees and cut some educational programs; in June 2020, the organization stated that it was $5.1 million in debt, as Melissa Loveridge reported for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle at the time. After reorganizing and selling off some property, the group is now on more stable financial footing. The Gazette reports that it raised $10 million during its most recent fiscal year.

As they look ahead to the summer, which is typically Yellowstone’s busy season, park leaders are anticipating additional challenges spurred by rising gas prices. Diekmann, for example, worries that travelers may take fewer trips or spend less money when they do travel. Indeed, a March AAA survey found that 59 percent of respondents who plan to take a vacation this summer would consider changing their travel plans due to the price of gas.

Colorful hot spring at Yellowstone National Park
The Grand Prismatic Spring is one of many hot springs, geysers and thermal features located inside Yellowstone National Park, which celebrated its 150th anniversary in March. National Park Service

More broadly, Yellowstone leaders are grappling with how best to manage crowds and maintain its infrastructure and staffing levels. While facing these and other near-term issues, however, the park is taking a long-term view of its future with initiatives like the Inheritance Pass.

“We may not need more visitors, but we do need more stewards and advocates,” Rick Hoeninghausen, director of sales and marketing for Yellowstone National Park Lodges, tells the Bozeman Daily Chronicle’s Helena Dore.