WASHINGTON - November 30 - In a quiet but far-reaching change, the National Park Service is poised to adopt a new policy of aggressively seeking corporate sponsorship of park projects and facilities. In return for financial sponsorships, the plan will give corporate donors naming rights, use of National Park symbols and personnel in advertising and much greater influence over park managers, according to public comments filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
“This starts a slow motion commercialization of the national park system,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “What will be allowed stops just short of licensing ads for ‘The Official Beer of Yosemite’ or ‘ Old Faithful, Brought to You by Viagara.’”
The Park Service has put forward a draft directive encouraging active pursuit of potential financial donors and repealing the agency’s current passive posture of merely accepting donations. Public comment on the plan closes this week. Interior Secretary Gale Norton has hailed the plan as an “exciting” new approach for broadening the funding base for national parks.
Park managers would be encouraged to offer packages that attract big corporate donors, including –
- Liberalized naming rights for trails, benches, rooms and other facilities (but not parks themselves), as well as display of logos and slogans on park literature, computer screens, and plaques;
- Exclusive media advertising rights to the official NPS Arrowhead symbol, the term “Proud Partner” of the National Park Service and the use of uniformed park employees in ads; and
- Flexibility to negotiate customized recognition deals that “meet the needs of individual donors.”
The plan jettisons bans against accepting or soliciting donations from vendors, concessionaires, permittees and others doing business with a park. Alcohol, tobacco and even gambling companies would also be eligible park sponsors. The only up-front review of major gifts would be a subjective “totality of circumstances” test applied by top officials to determine whether the donation is “appropriate.”
The plan is designed so that private donations develop into a much more significant factor in overall park budgets, as well as high-profile capital projects and improvements. Currently, the Park Service raises an estimated $17 million from outside sources each year.
“Large corporate donations exert a not-so-subtle gravitational pull on park managers who are increasingly dependent on these donors for their budgets,” Ruch added, noting that PEER is already hearing from park employees who have been transferred or reassigned to placate donors. “Influence peddling will soon become a major recreational activity in our national parks.”