Oct. 18, 2005 – Suffering under a budget crunch, Americaâ€™s national parks are turning to corporate sponsors to cover millions of dollars in expenses. The move to allow companies to brand portions of the nationâ€™s most pristine wilds is a marked change from the National Park Serviceâ€™s current passive acceptance of corporate largess.
According to documents released by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) yesterday, the Park Service (NPS) is readying to accept outside solicitations to keep parks open and fully functioning. Specifically, the proposed rules allow sponsors to donate funds in exchange for displaying promotional materials both in parks and on NPS websites.
On October 6, NPS Director Fran Mainella announced that his agency was accepting comments on proposed changes to service rules for accepting donations from individuals and groups. Among the proposed acceptable forms of donations are commemorative plaques, markers and naming portions of specific park facilities.
The Park Service will also now allow employees to seek funds from companies currently doing business with the NPS, a direct about-face by the federal agency, PEER said. According to the new rules, employees can seek donations from corporations currently holding vending contracts with the Service. All sponsor companies would be allowed to display their logos prominently, the proposed NPS rules state.
According to PEER, such "branding" is a "thinly disguised scheme to subject the public commons to corporate branding campaigns." The group charges that the Bush administration is seeking to undermine the parks system in order to privatize it.
At a hearing earlier this month, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) warned that the Park Service was operating with a structural deficit of more than $600 million. Overall, national parks are operating on two-thirds of their recommended funding, NPCA said.
Park officials expect to raise usage fees next year to offset a portion of the shortfall, in addition to seeking corporate backing. NPCA is asking Congress to appropriate funds to close the gap.
Other intrusive corporate fundraisers under consideration include cell-phone towers, low-altitude flights, and snowmobile and all-terrain-vehicle access, the Salt Lake Tribune reported last week. In addition, park managers would have limited authority to prevent development, the paper said.