From Public Citizen’s perspective, Jonathan Jarvis, director of the National Park Service, has just opened the national parks to a flood of commercialization.
Said Public Citizen: ‘It is disgraceful that the parks service plans to sell our national parks to the highest bidder despite overwhelming public opposition to increased commercialization in our national parks.’
The shrill rhetoric comes in response to Mr. Jarvis’s recent signing of Director’s Order No. 21. It does indeed alter the National Park Service policy with regard to commercialism and allows the parks to seek corporate donations. But the order won’t, as Public Citizen implies, allow McDonald’s to erect its golden arches alongside the spectacular natural formations in Arches National Park.
Commercialization of our national parks is hardly ideal. Before rushing to condemn the changes, however, it’s worth noting both that the parks have operated on inadequate budgets for years and that there’s little cause for optimism about significant increases in federal assistance. In fact, the National Park Service has done well to prevent further deterioration of infrastructure, amenities and visitors’ experiences in our parks.
But as the National Park Service begins its second century, the reality is that for the parks to adequately serve millions of annual visitors while protecting and preserving the natural beauty that draws those visitors, the parks need more money.
Yes, purists are likely to be offended by any commercialization. As Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer rights advocacy organization, points out, more than 200,000 people signed petitions opposing the new policy. Our sense is that those individuals also would object to traffic jams in the parks, roads with potholes, crowded parking lots, overflowing trash bins and leaking plumbing. Yet those boring but important infrastructure and maintenance issues can make or break a vacation in our parks.
As for the commercialization to be allowed, it will generally be discreet and, the NPS promises, tasteful. Rooms inside facilities could be named for donors, and corporate logos could be part of short credit lines on interpretive displays and temporary materials. Also, visitors can expect to read such sentences as, ‘This exhibit was made possible through the generous donation of ...’
What will not be allowed are the naming of park facilities for donors, product placements and ownership of park facilities; logos on walls, walkways, park furnishings; and park vehicles with advertising slogans. Parks will not be renamed for donors or ‘brought to you by’ donors.
The burden is on the National Park Service to carefully vet potential donors. That will help prevent the parks from being tainted by a scandal involving a corporate contributor and increase the likelihood that contributors care about the parks themselves as well as the number of eyes that might see their names.
Certainly crass commercialization can hamper visitors’ experience. But money from responsible donors interested in preserving some of America’s most beautiful and treasured places also can enhance it.