National Park Service Mum On How It Plans To Celebrate Its Centennial In 2016

What's a birthday party without a surprise? That seems to be the case with the National Park Service's silence on how it plans to mark its centennial in 2016.

Though the centennial has been talked about by top Interior Department and Park Service officials since 2007, at least, the Park Service apparently hasn't drafted any road map for how the celebration will be rolled out, according to Public Employees For Environmental Responsibility.

For the past six months, PEER has sought records detailing the NPS Centennial outreach plans and the sources of funding. After producing one Request-for-Proposal for a national advertising contract, NPS insisted that it had no other responsive documents, despite:

* Industry trade paper accounts that NPS selected the Grey Group to spearhead “a multiplatform communications initiative,” estimated to cost $6 million annually for the five years leading up to the Centennial;

* Creation of an NPS Centennial Office in February 2012, reporting to Jarvis, as well as an in-house task force to develop a second century “vision” strategy; and

* The existence of a 30-member NPS Centennial Advisory Committee, created in June 2011, which had multiple meetings and had arranged Jarvis to meet with advertising/marketing firms.

The lack of a planning paper trail strikes PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch as curious.

“The Park Service seems to be staging the grandest self-celebration in the history of the Republic but says it has committed virtually nothing about it to writing,” Mr. Ruch said in a release Wednesday, when the organization filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain withheld records.

Park Service officials declined to respond to PEER's release, saying that, "as a matter of policy," they don't discuss matters involving a lawsuit.

Comments

No problem. Just sell enough NPS booze and no one will care.

I believe the problem is deeper than the National Park Service. These days, every celebration has to be "politically correct." What does that mean? Borrowing a line from Love Story, it means never having to say you're sorry. The problem is: All of us are made to feel sorry for the alleged sins of America's past. Forget that it was a different country then and they the people of their times. Our times demand that we apologize even for sins we did not commit.

You have to sympathize that the National Park Service is caught full square between these rocks. On the one hand the agency would like to shout to the rooftops that it manages "the best idea we ever had." On the other hand it is repeatedly warned that the institution is no longer "representative" of America, at least, not the America we have become. And so NPS management backpeddles, looking to find ideas that are "safe." It happened just that way in 1991 on the 75th anniversary of the agency. At Vail, all of the scholars with "unsafe" ideas were excluded. It was another party just for show.

I have an idea for Director Jarvis, and it won't cost him a dime. Turn the centennial over to those "unsafe" scholars and watch the powerful ideas flow.

If the national park idea is as good as we say it is, it can handle all of that debate--and more. It can become more inclusive without risking the exclusion of everything that has come before. There is why your Park Service is treading water. Its managers don't know how to say that. They don't know how to defend themselves--how to defend a public institution--now that everything public is under siege.

As long as the National Park Service feels obligated to be "safe," its centennial will be a bust. There is no such thing as a good idea that is "safe," and even good ideas don't appear on cue. If by 2016 there is no new Big Idea, the Big Idea we already have will do just fine. We the American people, in Congress assembled, invented and disseminated the national park idea. We then asked the National Park Service to manage that idea. By themselves, those are reasons to celebrate and cheer. Let the bureaucrats recommend a special wine for the occasion. The real Park Service will know how to celebrate, if only that is allowed.

Unfortunately, Dr. Runte is probably spot on. People who should be making decisions live in fear. Fear of litigation. Fear of losing the next election. Fear of being fired. Fear of losing generous contributions from various sources.

As a result, the nation is paralyzed and we are reduced to arguing about the dining hall menu while the ship is sinking in a gale.

Alfred Runte sketches the essential truism, that although Parks are lauded or at least conceded as a nice idea (even by critics), the Park Service per se is profoundly bureaucratized.

[The Park Service] is repeatedly warned that the institution is no longer "representative" of America...

Indeed, the Service is so unrepresentative of America, it can be argued it is in some meaningful respects effectively anti-American.

Of course, even if they were rollicking, representative Americans themselves (which, if sometimes so, is something Ed Snowden himself might be surprised to learn), the Service would still be a bureaucracy.

Significant scholastic articulation & presentation on the occasion of the Centennial needs to find a more promising venue, than the "tall grass is mowed down" Service can provide.

Sidling up to some of those underrepresented Americans could be a sharp idea.
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Speaking of anniversaries & symbolism ... I was tickled to review the old accounts of Billie Jean King making her entrance at the coliseum as Cleopatra, borne in a litter on the shoulders of body-builder males dressed as ancient slaves. Bobby Riggs entered in a rickshaw drawn by a team of minimally-attired female sex-objects. He gave her a lollipop. She gave him a pig.

I understand it was the single most-viewed, and most-celebrated tennis match in history, to that date. The Service could take some lessons here ... real Americans on parade, to the genuine delight of America - and indeed the world.

This lawsuit concerning lack of transparency about the centennial celebrations should not be surprising. The top-heavy NPS is one of the least transparent federal agencies I've ever tried to deal with. Try requesting a copy of your local park's previous-year budget or even just an organization chart, if you don't believe me.

Probably half the annual NPS appropriation never makes it past the DC and Regional Offices. The many, many millions that will be spent on planning, advertising and celebrating would be better used to partially undo sequestration cuts at the park level.

"When will the agency that has been charged with one of the most important missions in the world—caring for some of the most beautiful and sacred places on Earth—find the courage to shift its focus away from economics, and the destructive consequence of this emphasis: the need to pursue ever-increasing visitation?"

http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2013/01/guest-column-will-national-park-service-centennial-bring-positive-change-or-merely-business-usual22681

The above link is one of the best articles in NPT this year. Don't miss the comments, especially those by willj.

Amen, Tahoma. Amen.