In an appearance that somewhat surprised me, Delaware North Companies Parks and Resorts, Inc., sent its chairman to testify before the House parks subcommittee on the proposed revisions to the National Park Service's Management Policies.
I say "somewhat" because, to me, at least, you'd think concessionaires would want parks to remain as pristine as possible with a wild edge to attract visitors. After all, there are so many other places you can head with your motorbikes, ATVs, snowmobiles and other forms of recreation that don't require much human power.
But of course, the concessionaires are in business to make a profit, so they want to lure as many visitors as possible.
Still, Kevin Kelly's comments surprised, and somewhat disappointed, me.
Mr. Kelly, in arguing in favor of the revisions, said he thought the Park Service under the 2001 Management Policies "paid a great deal (of) attention" to its preservation mandate, but little, if any, to seeing that the public enjoys the parks.
There are several ironies to that statement. One, of course, is that visitor surveys taken by the federal government show that more than 95 percent of those contacted said they had a great time in the national parks. Too, there was the Harris Poll that showed the National Park Service is the most popular government service out there. And let's not forget the survey taken by the Outdoor Industry Association that said a strong majority of Americans like their national parks unadulterated: they want quiet, scenery and wildlife.
Even Mr. Kelly noted in his testimony that visitors to national parks are really enjoying themselves under the current set of management guidelines.
"Over the years, I have had the opportunity to see firsthand the joy of families who visit our national parks each year," he told the committee. "I have seen parents and grandparents passing on the extremely important legacy of our national parks, the importance of preserving them, and also enjoying them."
What he didn't say in his prepared remarks was how he would want things changed. Which makes me wonder why he appeared before the committee?
Now, across the continent from Washington there was a talk show on KALW, a San Francisco public radio station, that also addressed the proposed revisions this week. Among the guests was Todd Hull, who I understand was representing at least some concessionaires and voiced the opinion that parks need to be more open to motorized recreation.
Obviously, Mr. Hull hasn't seen any of the polls or surveys on what Americans think about the parks and what they want from their visits.
The national parks need the concessionaires. It's a mutually rewarding symbiotic relationship. But I think -- and maybe I'm going out on a limb here, but I don't think so -- that the bulk of the concessionaires out there don't want to turn the national parks into theme parks. We don't need any more of those, and they don't represent the qualities of the national parks.
I hear regularly from national park concessionaires about their sustainable menus and their efforts to be as "green" as possible in their operations. Can they boast about those achievements in one breath, and then turn around and invite folks to come use their Jet Skis and snowmobiles in the next?
If Mr. Kelly and Mr. Hull believe there's a need for more motorized recreation on America's public lands, I'd suggest they open some lodges in the national forests or on U.S. Bureau of Land Management lands where those opportunities rightfully exist.