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for people who care about the West

Dangers of privatizing parks


What will areas administered by the National Park Service become (HCN, 8/22/16)? Will the enormous shortage of congressional appropriations undermine a century of relative stability? Fifty years ago, massive infrastructure improvements were made under a program called Mission 66, but no such program has existed since. Congress got in the habit of not fulfilling appropriations requests — there were wars to be fought — yet use of the parks expanded. Very quickly, the Park Service realized it could sort of get the work done with volunteers. As that program grew, Congress seems to have regarded the success of volunteerism as a substitute for appropriations. Into this vacuum of congressional support, corporate and private stewardship is stepping. Some years ago, a major motor vehicle manufacturer funded the restoration of Glacier National Park’s red buses. Subaru is very visible in its support this centennial year. At Gettysburg National Military Park, each of the approximately 2.5 million people who enter the visitors center will pay a $12.50 entry fee because the center is owned and operated by a private foundation. Is this the direction we want the management of “the best idea this country ever had” to go? Once the door is opened to privatization and there is money to be made, the national parks as we have known them will be but a memory. 

Peter Thompson
Hobart, Washington