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Are US National Parks "For Sale" - Should we Panic?

Allison Friedman MA, United States 0 Ratings 100 Discussions 131 Group posts

Posted by: Allison Friedman // Rate It Green Admin

A recent Washington Post headline asked whether Yosemite might soon be sponsored by Starbucks.... is it time to panic? Maybe.

As the National Park Service approaches its 100th anniversary, Jonathan Jarvis, the director of the National park Service, proposed a change to park philanthropy policy in March that would allow the granting or temporary naming rights to some park buildings...

You can see how this could quickly get out of hand, but before we get completely outraged, let's ask a question. How ARE we going to pay for the parks? It does seem often that citizens expect services but then find it surprising that it takes taxes to pay for them. There was some hope that the connection would be made between funding and services (at least for parks, and let's leave bureaucratic inefficiency arguments aside for the moment and agree that it takes SOME funding to provide a service and to hire someone or to maintain/fix something) when temporary Federal government shutdowns closed beloved parks and institutions like the Smithsonian and even White House tours were stopped - right at some peak seasons. These closures affected people from many places and economic backgrounds.

But though they may have raised some awareness that parks are a privilege and not a right (wait, are they a right?) park closure concerns didn't open the floodgates of tax supported funding. Apparently, a policy change in the National Park's regulations will allow "donor recognition" on a temporary basis on signage and printed materials, and maybe even park vehicles (calling Ford! Bridgestone!) Dan Puskar, the executive director of the Public Lands Alliance, which helps support individual monuments and parks across the US claims, "They’re looking for a tasteful way to recognize donors.”

Why is this happening? Look at it this way. Private donors currently fund approximately 9% of of park system annual operating expenses. The government allocated $2.85 billion in 2016, but claims a backlog of $12 billion worth of repairs. If you have visited a park bathroom, you might agree? While I personally believe we should fully fund our parks and graciously accept donations and treat these properties and monuments like the jewels they are - and a great way to connect people to nature - the Defense (A defense bill? A discussion for another day) Authorization Act of 2015 compels the parks to increase private funding through "donor recognition."

According to Nonprofit Quarterly, "Donor recognition allows for corporate logos to appear on temporary freestanding signs, brochures, posters and banners, digital media, some exhibits, and vehicles. It also allows for the sponsorship and naming of interior spaces for five years, branded programs and endowments, and sponsorship of paving stones, benches, theater seats, bear-proof locker, park furnishings and the like."

This does sound kind of bad. But, it sounds good to fund our parks. What do you think? Maybe it's time to call or write your elected officials to take back our parks - and their funding? If not, don't complain when you see that Starbucks sign?

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