Park photo contest comes with corporate baggage

 

NATION

Amateur photographers are now submitting their sharpest national park photos to the National Park Service in hopes of appearing on the 2002 Parks Pass, which allows entry to the nation's 383 parks. Kodak has agreed to organize and fund the entire contest, including flying the winner and family to any park in the country. Critics wonder what the real cost of more corporate-parks partnership will be.

Since the mid-1990s, the Park Service has tried to bolster its dwindling revenue by attracting more corporate support (HCN, 8/19/96: Strapped parks look for money). And it has tried to balance sponsorship with the parks' lofty image, allowing Target to put $5 million toward Washington Monument restoration four years ago, while shooting down a plan last summer to sell Internet advertising space next to a live Webcam of Yellowstone's Old Faithful geyser. "We know people go to parks to get away from the big neon signs," says Sue Waldron, chief of the Park Service's partnership office.

Watchdog groups say Kodak's new presence represents another threat to the integrity of parks.

"I look upon the parks as churches," says Frank Buono, a board member for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. "Would we allow a banner for Kodak in St. Patrick's Cathedral?"

At the moment, there's no Kodak banner in any park, but Scott Silver, executive director of Oregon-based Wild Wilderness, wonders "how long until we have Kodak-sponsored photo-ops in parks?"