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 partnership in this country. Thetranscontinental 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 is facing a $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 a 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. 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, Cocoa 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 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 wild lands 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 wild lands 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…


10 Replies to “Corporate sponsorship in the National Parks?”

  1. 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.

  2. 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 named Parks, and many more, back into wilderness. Wilderness isn’t roads, hotels, traffic, public buses, smog, eateries, humanized animals, and the other travesties we have bestowed on these wonderful places.

    Teddy Roosevelt said,

    “It is also vandalism wantonly to destroy or to permit the destruction of what is beautiful in nature, whether it be a cliff, a forest, or a species of mammal or bird. Here in the United States we turn our rivers and streams into sewers and dumping-grounds, we pollute the air, we destroy forests, and exterminate fishes, birds and mammals — not to speak of vulgarizing charming landscapes with hideous advertisements. But at last it looks as if our people were awakening.”

    Yosemite Valley and many other National Parks are now vulgarized versions of what the once were — when we first found them. What we have done to places like Yosemite Valley, the Grand Canyon, and many other places, is exactly what Roosevelt complained about.

    A few years ago I put together a plan for Yosemite. We can apply it to most of our other National Parks.


    My plan to return Yosemite to wilderness.

    Make it difficult to get to Yosemite.

    That’s the solution. Here is my 10 point plan.

    1. Remove all roads in the Park. This means Hwy 120 first. It does not mean barricade the road, it means remove the pavement, bridges, tunnels and all other improvements.

    2. Remove all roads within 20 miles of Yosemite. See #1 for particulars. This means hikers will have to walk 20 miles to get to any Yosemite border.

    3. Remove all buildings, walkways, bridges, and anything man made.

    4. Clean up the backcountry. Remove trail signs, cairns, and all navigation aids.

    5. Allow no one to operate a business in, to, or out of Yosemite.

    6. Make it a Federal Offense to maintain any trail. This includes trimming trees and shrubs, cutting blow-downs on any trail.

    7. Ban all domestic animals to include horses, mules, and dogs.

    8. Ban all mechanical equipment to include drones and helicopters of any kind.

    9. Adjust, jam, or scramble our satellite system to prevent any GPS, radio, microwave, cell, or communication signal from reaching any area of the park.

    10. The only job for any Ranger will be to walk the backcountry and enforce these rules.

    Make entry into the Parks free. The price of admission is you will have to walk 20 miles to get to it. We will save so much money by implementing my 10 Point plan, there will be no need to charge Americans to visit their own National Parks.

    Corporate sponsors? That’s the last thing we need.

    1. I take a more moderate view, but I think it is safe to say that we are slowly (or maybe not so slowly) turning national parks into Amusement Parks.

      In Abbey’s Industrial Tourism essay he does mention only allowing shuttles on the roads. Otherwise hike, ride a bike along the road or perhaps horseback. A good first step that would eliminate congestion, maintenance and hassle. I’ve used the shuttle in RMNP on occasion. Works fine. I wish it was expanded more to the OTHER side of the park. But the concessionaires and businesses related to the park probably would not like it. 🙂

    2. 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 park, what do you think will happen to even more park revenue? It will be channeled to other government expenditures and the parks will become even more dependent on corporate sponsorships.

  3. 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?

  4. 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 like maintained trails and access roads with backcountry rangers and knowledgeable resource staff. They need to reset priorities and corporate sponsorship is not going to fix unless the rules are strict. As you said without ROI they won’t play. Lose lose!

  5. 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.

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