Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

For Immediate Release


Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

Press Release

Creeping Corporatization of National Parks

Summit Promoting a Billion Dollar Private Endowment for Parks

As the National Park System prepares for its centennial in 2016 it is turning toward corporate funding for support, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). A core strategy announced by National Park Service (NPS) leaders in August 2011 is creating a billion dollar corporate-financed endowment outside the federal appropriation process.

Today through January 26th, an invitation-only summit in Washington, DC focuses on how to build support for the NPS agenda, called a Call to Action.  While not hosted by the NPS, the summit is being staged by the National Park Foundation, the congressionally-chartered fundraising arm for NPS, and the network representing park vendors and concessionaires.  “America’s Summit on National Parks” does, however, feature NPS and Interior Department officials from both the Obama and Bush administrations.

One of the main financial sponsors of the summit is Coca Cola, which recently leveraged its substantial contributions channeled through the National Park Foundation to temporarily block a ban on disposable plastic water bottle sales at Grand Canyon National Park.  Coca Cola is a major water bottler whose products would have been affected. Five weeks after the company’s role was exposed in November 2011, NPS backed off its veto of Grand Canyon’s plans.

“Our national parks do not need a super PAC to flourish in the 21st century,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, pointing out that a big private “slush fund” raises issues of accountability and transparency not addressed in agency plans. “Corporate money comes with strings attached, which inevitably means special treatment for special interests at the expense of our national commons.”

PEER points to the $2.5 million “Proud Partner” agreement Coca Cola entered into with NPS and its Foundation as an example of “creeping corporatization” of national parks.  Under the 5-year arrangement which runs through 2012, Coca Cola gets exclusive use of park logos for cause marketing campaigns (to the exclusion of all other beverage companies).  In addition, the company obtains –

  • “Special visitation opportunities, e.g., for executives and key customer hospitality, in the Parks”;
  • “Marketing Support” including a “promotional media commitment.”  The agreement specifically mentions that Coca Cola will “develop executions around the parks that are part of the African American Experience Fund under the system multicultural marketing platform”; and
  • A variety of “in-park activities including tours, events and interpretation” as well as unspecified “additional mutually beneficial program enhancements.”  The company will also receive discounted National Park Passes for its employees and approved “promotional purposes.”

Coca Cola’s contributions to the National Park Foundation are completely tax deductible.  The only explicit limit on cross-marketing is that NPS does not explicitly endorse the company’s products.

“Taxpayers are underwriting commercial marketing campaigns courtesy of the National Park Foundation,” added Ruch, noting that NPS will need 400 agreements similar to the Coca Cola Proud Partner deal to reach its billion dollar goal.  “Any summit on the centennial of our nation’s park system should ponder how to preserve the integrity of America’s best idea from the seduction of material pressures – a topic apparently not on this week’s agenda.”

PEER obtained the Coca Cola agreement after filing a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the National Park Foundation.  PEER is calling for all of these fundraising deals to be on the public record.


See how corporate contributions confer access and influence

Look at the Coca Cola Proud Partner agreement

Revisit Coke role in blocking plastic bottle ban

View Coke sponsorship of the summit

Examine the NPS Call to Action (Step # 29)


Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.

After OPEC Move, Sanders Says US Must 'Eliminate Military Assistance to Saudi Arabia'

Sen. Bernie Sanders accused Saudi-led OPEC of a "blatant attempt to increase gas prices at the pump."

Jake Johnson ·

Scientist Says Some Coral Reefs Can Be Saved 'If We Take Immediate Action'

"People need to be aware this is coming up fast, and the time to explore mitigation techniques is now," warns another researcher behind a recently published study.

Jessica Corbett ·

Ro Khanna Lays Out New Vision for American Manufacturing and Economic Progress

"Embracing a New Economic Patriotism plan isn't just about jobs. It's about unifying Americans—from the coasts to the heartland—with a shared purpose."

Brett Wilkins ·

Peace Groups Push US to Use 'All Points of Leverage' to End Saudi Blockade of Yemen

"The Biden administration must take urgent action to compel Saudi Arabia to completely lift this blockade as a humanitarian act, for the sake of millions of Yemenis in desperate need."

Jessica Corbett ·

Freelance Photographer Says He Was Fired by NYT Over Support for Palestinian Resistance

"What is taking place is a systematic effort to distort the image of Palestinian journalists as being incapable of trustworthiness and integrity, simply because we cover the human rights violations that the Palestinian people undergo on a daily basis at hands of the Israeli army."

Kenny Stancil ·

Common Dreams Logo