Everybody loves national parks. They offer scenic wonders, opportunities to commune with nature, and a chance to get away from the pervasive commercialization that fills our lives. But that may soon change.
This is the centennial year for the parks and, simply put, they need money for a wide range of maintenance programs that have been put on the back burner for lack of funding. In its wisdom, Congress has decided to ignore requests for increased funding for the National Park Service and instead has opted to loosen the rules for parks receiving private money. In particular, the gates are now open for selling naming rights at the parks.
The new rules do not go so far as allowing for the Budweiser Yosemite Park or Burger King Park Road, but we could see a Coca Cola Auditorium at a park or shuttle buses plastered with McDonalds logos. The new rules allow for corporate names and logos on visitor centers, benches, lockers, educational guides, park buses and trams, and youth programs. There will be plenty of branding opportunities available to corporations.
Furthermore, park directors are now expected to start reaching out to rich patrons and potential sponsors to get their hands on some of this new money. Do we really want them to be evaluated with considerations like “they are doing a great job at protecting bison but they are not raising enough money?”
Commercializing the national parks is a choice that the government is making and it seems like a pretty bad one. There is a petition to express that view to the National Park Service Director available at the link at earthwiseradio.org if you are interested.
Photo, posted September 1, 2005, courtesy of Kevin Saff via Flickr.