Corporate sponsorship in the National Parks?


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“The great thing about the policy [of corporate sponsorships in National Parks] is it protects those features of the park that are important to all of us,” said Jeff Reinbold, the Park Service’s associate director for partnerships and civic engagement, “but it gives us new opportunities and new tools” to respond to donors who perceive the government as too slow to get deals done.”

This past month, the National Park Service let it be known that they are now welcoming and actively courting corporate sponsorship in the national park units.

Google Road on Trail Ridge in Rocky Mountain National Park?

Probably not.

Google Auditorium at Beaver Meadows?

Quite probable.

Sports Authority Field at Mile High sign_1455806419730_316217_ver1.0
Sound familiar?  Exaggeration for the NPS…maybe?  (from the Denver Post)

There is a long tradition of private and public partnerships in this country. The transcontinental railroad, our tech industry, and other aspects of our lives as just some examples.

from RGBStock Free Photos

But actively seeking corporate sponsorship? This is something different. Our national parks are putting out the begging bowls.

Will splash a corporate logo for money.”

I don’t fault the NPS administration per se. When the United States is spending what could be over a trillion dollars on the Ford Edsel of fighter planes,  but the NPS faces an $11bn shortfall, something has to be done.

But it is a bit of a Faustian bargain.

“Our needs are astronomic,” said Will Shafroth, president and chief executive of the National Park Foundation, the Park Service’s fundraising arm. “The parks don’t have enough money to accomplish their goals.”

But what goals will be met?

The needed money won’t go into maintaining trails, paying for park rangers for patrolling the backcountry, reopening mothballed visitor centers or museums, and so on.

It will be to splash advertisements in high-use and visible areas. And the new corporate sponsors may strongly suggest that perhaps a new auditorium is really needed or perhaps some new Subarus instead?

Trail maintenance, backcountry patrols, more talks, classes, and outreach ain’t sexy.

The corporate sponsors want an ROI.  Talks on migrating butterflies or star talks won’t be it.

A multimedia presentation in a splashy new multimedia center with a VERY BIG CORPORATE LOGO?  Hell yes.

I just question what benefit there is to corporate sponsorship in parks without some strict stipulations.

The sponsors will exert undue influence on park policies and priorities. The influence that is not in line with maintaining and protecting our resources for future use of the American public.

Don’t think so?

When the NPS tried to have water fountains rather than sell disposable water bottles, Coca-Cola had some strong words against it.   Their pet Congress Critter even lobbied against it. The Congress Critter represents a district with many interests in bottled water. Coincidence, I am sure.

If there is more corporate sponsorship in our National Parks, I expect more of these shenanigans.

On paper, corporate sponsorship in our National Parks seems like something that would work. Our parks get needed funds. Corporations get some good PR.  People win.

Except I don’t see the influence of corporate sponsorship in our National Parks as a good thing based on past activity. Just look at the history of concessionaires in our NPS units for further evidence. And the demands they make. Or heed Ed Abbey’s warnings about Industrial Tourism (Ever notice, many of our prophets seem to preach from the desert?).

I’ve said before that the largest challenge we face with public lands is not so much acquiring them or protecting the lands. But rather retaining the character of what makes the wildlands wild.

Disney Land is a fine place. And fun for many people.

But we don’t need our National Parks to be Disneyfied.

We need the wildlands to be wild. Or at least not so tamed.

More corporate influence, esp without strict guidelines that will probably not happen, means less wildness.

And more of an experience that benefits the corporate sponsors of our public lands and not us…

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7 years ago

I agree and can’t think of any way to say it better. Now would be a good time to re-watch Ken Burns documentary and imagine how things would be now, if the visionaries hadn’t run the peddlers out years ago.

Nick Gatel
7 years ago

Oh, you wrote this for me, right? We need to keep in mind that National Parks, like some Civil War battlegrounds are different than places like Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Death Valley, or Joshua Tree. These National Parks we need to preserve… now preservation doesn’t mean to make access easy or to remake them into the image of what Walt Disney would build — an amusement park. We need to preserve them so future generations can visit them and see them just like we found them, when the first White visitors came upon them. We need to revert the above… Read more »

Dale Matson
7 years ago
Reply to  Nick Gatel

The spirit of why the parks were created to begin with was for people to have access to nature because they had become too “civilized” John Muir himself led trips into the wilderness. Your “plan” to remove all roads within 20 miles of Yosemite is not only unrealistic, it is elitist and would keep all those with mobility impairments from ever seeing the wonderful Yosemite sights. My question is, “Why does the NPS have an 11 billion dollar shortfall? The gate receipts at Yosemite alone would be enough to run many of the parks. If corporate sponsors help fund the… Read more »

7 years ago

I agree, on paper this sounds like a great idea and it’s sad there probably isn’t a way for corporations and government to work together to meet the goals and ideals of the NPS. It also gives me mixed feelings about park access. What should be maintained first in order to keep outdoors coming back and interesed?

7 years ago

The distribution of federal funds is a sham. How did the parks and forests become low man on the totem pole? Adding user fees first to secure more funding then slashing staff and programs isn’t working. I was recently in an area where there use to be 100 employees living in ranger housing, now there are a handful and they are planning to tear down the unused facilities because they can’t afford to maintain. My suspicion is the tide will turn and we’ll get to pay to replace those facilities. I don’t want Disneyland like parks or wilderness areas. I’d… Read more »

Nick Gatel
7 years ago

I have a feeling that the NPS has two big metrics in most parks: visitor count and revenue from visitors and vendors. Add, widen, and improve roads brings in more visitors. Soon WiFi will be added to lure more people to the Parks — mark my words. Sponsors will increase revenues, especially at Yosemite-McDonalds National Park, Yellowstone-Staples Center National Park, and Trump Tower Grand Canyon National Park. And watch, those companies will end up owning the names Yosemite NP, Yellowstone NP, and Grand Canyon NP.

Bamboo Bob Sartini
Bamboo Bob Sartini
7 years ago

Denali is a pretty good model I think.


[…] just know what BAH and their ilk do to our public lands, and the experience on the public lands becomes worrisome to me.  And the overall trend is not a good […]