Well, it turns out that the invite list to this week's retreat in Shepherdstown is higher brow than I suspected. Those on the inner circle of the centennial initiative include:
* Gary Kiedaisch, the president and CEO of the Coleman Company, which is a member of the American Recreation Coalition.
* Gideon Argov, the president and CEO of Entegris, Inc., a company that serves the high-tech industry.
* Barry McCahill, president of McCahill Communications, Inc., which caters to the transportation industry. He also is president of SUV Owners of America.
* Derrick Crandall, president of the American Recreation Coalition.
* Kym Murphy, senior vice president of corporate environmental policy for Disney, which is a member of the American Recreation Coalition.
* Charles Moran, president and CEO of parks concessionaire Delaware North.
* Quinton Martin, vice president of community marketing for Coca-Cola.
* Roland Betts, chairman of Chelsea Piers Management, Inc.
* Sally Jewell, CEO of REI.
* Frank Hugelmeyer, president and CEO of the Outdoor Industry of America.
* Tim Blixseth, CEO of the Yellowstone Club.
* Rex Maughan, chairman of the board and president of Forever Living, a company that makes health care products.
* And John Nau, president and CEO of Silver Eagle Distributors, L.P., a beer distributor who also chairs the American Council of Historic Preservation.
But don't let me leave you with the impression that only captains of industry were invited to this get together to go over prospective signature projects for the National Park Centennial Initiative. Turn the page and look who else was invited.
Also on the guest list were:
* Vin Cipolla, president and CEO of the National Park Foundation, the nonprofit Congress set up to raise money for the park system.
* Stephen Briganti, president and CEO of the Statute of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation.
* Curt Buchholtz, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Nature Foundation.
* Tom Kiernan, president of the National Parks Conservation Association.
* Rebecca Rimel, president and CEO of the Pew Charitable Trusts.
* Wes Nichols of the Milken Institute, an economic think tank.
* John Kinney, board member of the Yosemite National Institute.
* John Bridgeland, president of Civic Enterprises, Inc., a group that works with nonprofits.
* Anne Udall, executive director of the Lee Institute, a nonprofit that focuses on community collaboration.
* Gina McCarthy, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection.
* Reagan Gammon, vice president of the Kimberlin Family Partnership.
* James Connaughton, chairman of the president's Council on Environmental Quality.
* David Anderson, a representative of the Office of Management and Budget.
On the Park Service side, representatives included Mary; Deputy Director Dan Wenk; Brian O'Neill; Jon Jarvis, director of the Pacific West Region; Ernie Quintana, director of the Midwest Region; Everglades Superintendent Dan Kimball; Yosemite Superintendent Mike Tollefson; John Latscher; Peggy O'Dell; Steve Whitesell, the superintendent of San Antonio Missions National Historic Park who's been put in charge of running the centennial initiative office, and; Bruce Sheaffer, the Park Service's comptroller. Also on the list were nine Interior Department staff.
Now, what I don't understand is why has this information been so difficult to ferret out? Is someone embarrassed about the guest list?
Of course, whenever information surrounding a public agency is withheld it always leads to suspicion. And in this case that suspicion naturally grows when you realize that the public comment phase on the centennial initiative closed on April 2 and there's never been any public notice of a committee of this size formed to sift through the public comment nor any notice of such a meeting being held.
That suspicion continues to grow when you look closer at the names and the industries they represent, and then realize the groups that are absent -- the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, the Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, and the Association of National Park Rangers, just to name four obvious ones. Then you begin to wonder about how the thought-process could be colored.
"My concern would be that the meeting reeks of similar meetings under Secretary (Gale) Norton and her subordinates -- attended by a disproportionate representation of tourism/recreation folks," Bill Wade, executive director of the coalition's executive council, told me. "It smacks of earlier attempts by ARC and other advocates for increased use and access by motorized forms of recreation to influence or control the future of the NPS and national park system by changing the Management Policies. They failed in that attempt, so now it looks like they are coming back through the Centennial Challenge.
"And it looks like they are being allowed much more than a nose inside the tent flap by the secretary and others managing this meeting," he went on. "Why is Tom Kiernan the only representative of the conservation community when you have 8-10 representatives of the tourism/recreation/concession communities?
"What does this say about how serious the secretary is when he says that conservation will dominate decisions when there is a conflict?
"... Why are the tourism/recreation/concession interests being given an additional opportunity to provide their additional ideas and influence the way conclusions will be made? Beyond what's already been received during the scheduled listening sessions, why are these interests being given special consideration for additional brainstorming, ideas and influence?
"It has the feel of a very long stick being jabbed into an uncomfortable place in the conservation community."