So cash-starved are some units of the national park system that they're resorting to leasing out their facilities for private parties. One of the latest bashes, at the Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston earlier this week, didn't lack for alcohol, reportedly involved one arrest, and generally impeded the public in places.
Yet officials at Boston National Historical Park, of which the Navy Yard is part of, are focusing on the bottom line, which, in this case, are the fees they collect for renting out the facilities.
The affair, which BNHP spokesman Sean Hennessey told me represented "a more entrepreneurial way of managing, providing revenue streams over and above what is provided to us in our operating allocations," was hosted by McKesson Corporation, a health-care company. The guest list, Mr. Hennessey told me, numbered 3,500.
Now, in the past the Navy Yard has hosted some pretty big affairs, like the Tall Ships celebration in 2000, and the bicentennial salute to the USS Constitution in 1997. However, unlike the McKesson bash, those were public events, open to the public. Access to the McKesson party was controlled, I understand, by wristbands, there were "Private Event" signs, and the many tents they set up impeded public access to parts of the Navy Yard.
While my conversation with Mr. Hennessey led me to believe this was going to be a somewhat low-key affair lasting only two evening hours or so, I understand it took crews three days to set up all the tents and run electrical cables across the Navy Yard. Some of the cables ran in front of gang planks leading to some of the ships, including the USS Cassin Young. The party itself apparently didn't wind down until 1 a.m.
Throughout the day of the event delivery trucks were seen cruising up and down Pier 1. As you can see from the accompanying photo, some of the deliveries involved quite a bit of alcohol. I understand that one of the attendees possibly imbibed a bit too much, got into an argument with an interpretive ranger and even the park's chief of interpretation, and later was seen being escorted off the grounds in handcuffs.
While Mr. Hennessey told me none of the grounds, outside of the tents set up for McKesson, would be off-limits to other park visitors, I understand that at one point there was an effort to block non-McKesson visitors from accessing the USS Cassin Young. In the end, though, a decision was made that if the ship was going to be open for McKesson's guests, it had to be open for everyone in the park.
To help arrange these types of affairs, Boston National Historical Park officials a few years ago retained Amelia Occasions, a company that specializes in special events and wedding planning. Amelia's agreement with the park is similar to the concessionaire contracts parks like Yosemite, Yellowstone and Grand Canyon have in that they require the company to pour a certain amount of money back into the park.
According to Mr. Hennessey, who didn't know how much McKesson was charged for using the Navy Yard, Amelia spent $30,000 last year on roof repairs to the commandant's house at the Navy Yard, and some funds were also spent on plumbing repairs.
"It’s that kind of contingency uses of the funds that are being encouraged through this kind of arrangement," he told me. They "provide a revenue stream to help us with the upkeep, maintenance, education programs. That kind of thing. It augments what is provided to us.”
Is the National Park Service so broke that $30,000 is a reasonable amount to allow a private company to take over a unit of the national park system, bring in truckloads of alcohol, and close off sections to the general public?
National Park Service Director Mary Bomar has promised to operate the agency "more like a business," but I question whether this sort of affair, and the one earlier this month at Alcatraz, while helping the NPS pay its bills, is an appropriate business use for the national park system.
Is it appropriate when there's drunkenness involved, as supposedly was the case at both events, and drug use, as allegedly took place at the Alcatraz event?
I would say not.