Key Concessions Contracts Up At Yosemite National Park, Along Blue Ridge Parkway

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The Ahwahnee Hotel in the Yosemite Valley is one of the prizes in the concessions contract for Yosemite National Park/Kurt Repanshek

The coming months could tell whether Xanterra Parks & Resorts and Delaware North Companies Parks & Resorts are both still in an acquisition mode, or will look to stand pat, as concessions opportunities are weighed in Yosemite National Park and along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

In Yosemite, the National Park Service is seeking bids for the chance to operate The Ahwahnee and other plum lodging, dining, and recreation operations for the 15 years beginning in 2016. Along the Blue Ridge Parkway, the agency is seeking a business partner to operate lodgings and dining operations at Rocky Knob Cabins near Milepost 168 and the Otter Creek restaurant and gift shop at Milepost 60.8.

Xanterra last year pulled off a coup by landing the concessions contract at Glacier National Park over long-time operator Glacier Park Inc., and also renewed its contract at Yellowstone National Park for 20 years. In addition, the company of late has been cementing its position in the outdoors, having acquired both Austin Lehman Adventures (now known simply as Austin Adventures) and Vermont Bicycling and Walking Tours in the past nine months. Going after the Yosemite contract would be expensive, particularly in the wake of Xanterra's new contract at Yellowstone that calls for an investment of roughly $135 million there. But Yosemite would be a nice addition to Xanterra's portfolio, which also boasts lodging and dining operations at Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Zion, and Crater Lake national parks.

Yosemite National Park, a jewel in any concessionaire's portfolio, has been held by Delaware North for many years. The company, which also manages concessions at Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks, has been expanding its footprint in the parks recently, adding the lodging at Shenandoah as well as the Peaks of Otter Lodge along the Blue Ridge Parkway since the beginning of 2013. The company also has expanded its lodging holdings in West Yellowstone, Montana, operates lodges in Olympic National Park, and has retail outlets in Yellowstone and Grand Canyon national parks.

With Delaware North's acquisition of the concessions business at Shenandoah and Peaks of Otter Lodge, it will be interesting to see whether the company pursues the other Blue Ridge Parkway properties, although the operations are small. However, also up for bid is the contract to the Pisgah Inn located along the Parkway to the south of Asheville, North Carolina. That operation, with 51 guest rooms and a restaurant, might interest the company.

Also to be determined is how aggressive ARAMARK Parks and Destinations might be. The company lost the Shenandoah contract and that to the Kalaloch Lodge in Olympic to Delaware North. ARAMARK does operate in Denali, Mesa Verde, Glacier Bay, and elsewhere in Olympic (Lake Crescent, Log Cabin Resort, Sol Duc Hot Springs), and at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

Otter Creek Facilities Review

The Otter Creek restaurant, gift shop and campground (MP 60.8) are located on Otter Creek, approximately 20 miles from Lynchburg, Virginia. The restaurant and gift shop facility at Otter Creek was designed as a modern board-and-batten frame building with traditional Southern Appalachian features such as a long porch across the front, a jerkinhead, or clipped, gable roof, and a stone chimney. The facility opened for business in May, 1960. Site stabilization of an area just behind the restaurant was also accomplished as a part of the restaurant building improvements that occurred during the spring of 1999. A montane oak-hickory forest is the principal plant community surrounding the restaurant.

Historically, the 3,190-square-foot facility was operated as a restaurant and gift Shop. The facility was open from May through October, serving breakfast and lunch. As it was configured, the dining room seated 57. The gift shop sold gifts, souvenirs, sundries and firewood. The facility has been closed since the end of 2010.

The adjacent, 69-site, Otter Creek campground, opened in 1960 with a small amphitheater established in 1962, is operated by the NPS, but was offered as a concession operation in the 2012 prospectus. Interested parties could improve and rent campsites, or have the opportunity to rent camping gear. Appendices to this RFEI contain additional information about the facilities.

Rocky Knob Facilities Overview

The Rocky Knob Cabins, a small, secluded complex of seven housekeeping cabins, a manager's house, and a shower/bath house is located near Floyd, Virginia. These historic structures constructed in 1941 by the Civilian Conservation Corps. First developed as "trail lodges," the cabins were remodeled for use as family housekeeping units in 1950. Six of the cabins include a bedroom and kitchen. The seventh cabin is ADA accessible and includes private bathroom in addition to a kitchen. Each cabin is 418 square feet. The 960-square-foot manager's house includes a bedroom, living area, kitchen, bathroom and office. The 792-square-foot shower house has men's and women's bathrooms and showers, and a laundry room. The cabins were historically available for rental May through October. The cabins have been closed since the end of 2012 due to lack of a concessionaire.

At Yosemite, the concessions contract would cover all lodging, dining, and retail shops in the Yosemite Valley, as well as the lodging operations at White Wolf, Tuolumne Meadows, Wawona, and the High Sierra Camps. The recreation businesses in the contract include the Badger Pass ski area and guide services for the mountaineering, nordic instruction, and ski school operations. Park Service officials estimate that if a company other than Delaware North landed the new contract, it would cost that company $32 million (in 2016 dollars) for "personal property, inventory, supplies, start-up costs (staff hiring, training, etc.) and working capital." Additionally, another $22.5 million would be owed Delaware North for "personal property such as furniture, trade fixtures, equipment, and vehicles," and an estimated $6.5 million for existing inventory.

Start-up costs for a new concession are estimated at $3 million, and another $3 million would be needed to address deferred maintenance in park facilities run by the concessionaire.

The new concession contract is scheduled to begin on March 1, 2016, and will be issued for a term of 15 years. This is the park’s primary concession operation and the largest concession contract in the National Park System.


*Anything* would be an improvement over Yosemite's current concessioner, which overcharges ridiculously ($110 a night for an unkempt, dirty tent cabin???) and does a lousy job.

But given Xanterra's track record of increasing prices to the point where the average Joe can't afford to stay in Yellowstone, I'm not all that enthusiastic about them, either.


NPS approves all rates. Included in the Yosemite prospectus is a document with all the recently approved rates.


Over priced and lousy job? Is that why they are always sold out?

The problem with Park Service "approved" rates is where the concessionaire gets to pick the "comparables." Historically, the Yosemite Park & Curry Company (MCA) and Delaware North have asked that their comparable properties be the most expensive resorts in California. Is that appropriate for the national parks? It certainly makes Yosemite the most profitable park in the system. Twenty-five years ago, I wrote Yosemite: The Embattled Wilderness to ask that question--and many others. At the time, the franchise fee in Yosemite was a piddling three quarters of one percent. For a $100 million property, MCA paid just $750,000 a year. My book helped change that, and the reforms are noticeable, but not as noticeable as one would think. When last I checked, a night at the Ahwahnee was $499. I stayed there in 1982 for $75. Even adjusted for inflation, the rate should be $250 and not $500--which remains the top end of the luxury rate at most of our national parks, including Zion where I regularly lecture now. I want to see Xanterra bid on this one, because again, it is only competition that sets the proper rate. In Yosemite, the Park Service rolls over and plays dead. Carmel, California, should not be the comparable for any national park, at least, not if we believe in an American middle class. Every American should be able to stay in Yosemite at least once without having to take out a mortgage.

Every American should be able to stay in Yosemite at least once without having to take out a mortgage.

And they can, unless you need a mortage for a $20 campsite.

You can even stay cheaper than $20. It's 5.00 for a permit processing, and 5.00 a night to stay in the backcountry per person. So, 10.00 for a trek into the very well preserved Sierra wilderness...And since there is limitations on the amount of people that can visit a zone, the solitude is unbridled compared to the front country areas.

Visiting Yosemite in 1959, my mother paid $3 to get in and zero to stake out a campsite. Today, she would pay $25 to get in (the equivalent, actually) and $60 for our three-night stay. In that case, she might not be able to afford it, since gasoline, car, tent, sleeping bags, air mattresses, Colman stove, food, etc., etc., etc., would all start adding up. The point is: The more we argue these issues in terms of "costs," the more we forget the hidden cost of the argument itself. Eventually, no other argument is allowed. So long as "someone" can afford to pay whatever I want to charge, I have the right to charge it. We'll soon see whether we can preserve a democracy on that argument. History is still betting that we can't.

So long as "someone" can afford to pay whatever I want to charge, I have the right to charge it.

Alfred, that is the philosophy that made this the greatest country ever to exist on earth. And we are a republic, not a democracy. Will we fail some day - most likely - particularly as we get farther away from our founding principles.

BTW - where is Lee with his entitlement jabs. If you can't pay $85 for a three night stay in the park then maybe you should be working rather than going on vacaton.

But were national parks intended to operate as profit centers with no ceiling, or as a public commons? Companies shouldn't have to operate at a loss, but what ceiling should be kept within sight in a park?

but what ceiling should be kept within sight in a park?

Kurt, if you are talking about basic access to the park then there may be some rationale for a "ceiling". Perhaps rates could be set as we do with public utilities, but then we probably would not have the most efficient of operations.

At $80 for unlimited access, $5 for a back country campground and $20 for an rv/tent site, I don't believe we are pricing anyone out of the Parks nor is anyone making unconscionable profits.

When it comes to luxury accomodations in the park - the first question might be why are they there. After that, I would have to ask why should anyone have any more right to a luxury accomodation in a Park then in Hawaii or Martha's Vineyard or Vegas.

Well, I think the luxury accommodations are there -- and Al can better answer this -- because there was a desire by Stephen Mather and Horace Albright to make Eastern bluebloods comfortable in the parks. They needed that part of society's support of the parks.

They needed that part of society's support of the parks.

Probably even more so today.

No offense Alfred, but in 1959, 3.00 has the same inflation value as 25.00 today.

Taking into consideration, that the population of the United States has gone from about 180 to 330 million in that time period, there is a lot more pressure on the resources today, than there was back then too.

No offense Alfred, but in 1959, 3.00 has the same inflation value as 25.00 today.

Why would he be offended. That is exactly what he said.

I'm not sure I see a problem with a range of fees for different kinds of accomodations in the park, but I do agree with Kurt that the parks should be viewed as a public commons and an effort made to continue to make them available to folks regardless of income. That said, these might be incommensurable views--an interesting issue to discuss.

Kurt is right about how we got luxury accommodations in the parks. A century ago, only the rich could afford to see the West; a railroad ticket was the equivalent of an upscale cruise today. Thus in 1915 only 51,000 people came to Yellowstone, 44,000 of those having come by rail.

What concerns me is entirely different. In 1959 my mother spent $600 taking my brother and me across the country. That would probably be $5,000 today. Her income was $222 a month from Social Securty (survivor's benefits), my father having died the previous year. She had a ninth grade education (Depression interrupted) and obviously needed to go back to school. But what if she hadn't made that trip? Every day, the Park Service rings its hands about minority participation in the national park idea. Practically nothing else these days is said. Well, we were that minority back in 1959, unless only color makes for minorities. You want minorities to visit the national parks? Then don't price them out of the experience. It is not will preventing them from visiting; it is price. Mom made the sacrifice, and even then it was a sacrifice. Fortunately, the campgrounds were dirt cheap or free, and still first-come, first served. There was no reservations bureaucracy standing between us and a cheap campsite. Now there usually is.

Look at the "campgrounds" and look at the "campers." Yeah, right! Even the backpackers start off at REI. It all makes for a "vision" of the parks that is offputting to poorer people, but you will never hear our Park Service saying that. Mom felt at home among the Chevy and Ford station wagons. Many of those campers were poorer, too. Granted, it was a different age, but that itself is what we should be looking at. The Park Service repeatedly spits out reports about "inclusiveness," then ignores the fundamental cause of the lack of inclusiveness, which still is price.

As for the higher end, I still think that a night in a lodge is a treat every American should get to enjoy. And again, the parking lot should not be filled just with luxury SUVs. A few aging Fords and Chevies should be welcome, as well. We never got that treat in 1959, but the more I learned about the architects and their principles, the more I feel the lodges and luxury hotels belong in the parks, as well. Just don't get greedy about the price, which seems to keep going up at ten percent a year while middle-class salaries stagnate, again, forcing the general public out.

I have lots of wealthy friends and know lots of wealthy people. God bless them for their success. Most earned it and did not inherit it. Well, some of us march to a different drummer, and still the biggest drumbeat is the middle class. Price them out the parks and the poor will never come. And isn't that the problem we now face all across the land?

I will repeat. $20 for a campsite is hardly pricing someone out of the market.

ec, you really need to read the article.

It's not about $20 campsites.

But it is about $110 a night for a cruddy cabin and motel rooms run by a monopoly.

And what made this country the greatest on earth was our willingness to work together, each helping to shoulder the burden despite the best efforts of those who felt entitled to snag all the profits they could from the hard work of others.

Unfortunately, that still happens. Fortunately, there are still people willing to sweat to boost us all -- even boosting the leaches at the top of the heap who have figured out how to abuse the system for their exclusive benefit.

If parks and public lands are supposed to be free of cost, shouldn't the motels and hotels and tent cabins be free, too?

It does seem to be a complex issue, Alfred Runte. I don't know how much park fees should be, or what precisely is un/affordable for whom. But I do appreciate the gist of your statement; the goal should be to make the parks as affordable as possible, especially given the additional costs, which go well beyond simply an entrance or campsite fee, such as travel to and from the parks, which are in so many cases in pretty remote locations.

I'm not sure cost is what is limiting visitation, though. (Although you might very well be right.) Of the people I talk to who travel extensively, including to the national parks, most haven't heard of even half the national parks I've visited. And when I go into details about one of these parks--say, Lassen Volcanic, Congaree, or Isle Royale--they are pretty shocked they haven't heard of them. I think the parks are--somehow--wildly underpublicized.

These are the current approved rates for the Ahwahnee:

Featured Room Year Round $437.96

Classic Room Year Round $412.95

Standard Room Year Round $387.95

Parlor Room Year Round $488.34

Specialty Room Year Round $488.34

These are the rates for the Ahwahnee in a 2007 NPT article:

Ahwahnee Rooms $426

Ahwahnee Cottages $426

Jr. Suite $499

Suites $893

Tresider Suite with Library Parlor $984

Additional Adult in same room-per night $21

Additional Rollaway in same room-per night $11

A LA Times article from April 2010 has Ahwahnee room rates thru Oct 2 of that year starting at $443. So it looks like between 2007 and 2010 prices rose 4% and between 2010 and 2014 prices rose roughly 10%.

May I have the Rollaway?!! I think we all understand the problem, including EC. He's right that $20 by itself should not prohibit anyone from visiting the national parks. It's just that everything else keeps adding up, too. Here's another wrinkle in the story. Graduating college in 1969, I treated myself to six weeks in Grand Teton National Park. I would have stayed longer but my draft board had other ideas. . . The point is: I put myself entirely through college at a state university that cost no more than $500 a year, that is, for tuition, books, and fees. Adjusted for inflation, that is still but a fraction of what college students are paying today. How can they afford "gifting" themselves a trip to the national parks? They can't even afford to work there anymore, since the expense of getting there takes the biggest chunk of their summer income. Indeed, have you noticed that most of the people working in the national parks are year-round employees of the major companies, in Zion, for example, people with 10 years experience plus who live in neaby St. George, Hurricane, La Verkin, and other towns?

The price of college, let alone the national parks, is changing the entire face of America. High-salaried bureaucrats forget what these institutions mean--should mean to the country. At the colleges where I used to teach, administrators now outnumber the faculty ten to one. It all starts with the argument that market forces should prevail. But just who is determining the market? Why should the National Park Service "farm out" any of its mission to others, thereby escalating the going price?

It all adds up to a different face for our national parks, and perhaps not the face we want. I think we all want for the rest of America what we had as young people ourselves. In that case, there may need to be some pulling back from America's perennial argument that price should dictate the experience every time. So again, I'll take the Rollaway, provided EC buys the suite!

Why should the National Park Service "farm out" any of its mission to others, thereby escalating the going price?

Because if they didn't, the price would likely escalate more. The private sector has consistently provided cheaper and higher quality services than the government.

BTW - You do realize the reason that the cost of college has gone up is because many don't pay at all (scholarships) or get access to "cheap" loans which some now want to be totally forgiven. The further you remove the recipient of education from the funder - the more the demand - and price - will go up.

Oh and while I could afford the suite, I much prefer the tent.

Dr. Runte--

Have you noticed what I have in my last couple visits to parks? Many of the concession employees come from other countries. I am not sure how visas etc. are arranged by companies such as Delaware North, but they must have a good friend at the State Department. It certainly is a lot different than when I worked. Most concession employees then were, as you point out, college students.

I talked with some young ladies from Russia, Korea(?), and Ukraine(?) in Yellowstone a couple of years ago. There are some companies in those countries that work like temp hiring companies in the U.S. Those companies make travel arrangements, obtain visas and whatever else is needed to get them over here. I didn't ask who pays for that.

Companies of various kinds in the U.S. then may contract for employees through them. The McDonalds in West Yellowstain was almost completely staffed by Russians. Canyon's snack bar was full of Koreans (Asians of some sort, if not Korean). Every one I talked to was thrilled to be here. It was the experience of a lifetime for them. All had been learning English since they started primary school, and now they had a chance to actually use it and to experience the nation everyone in the world looks to as either the Greatest Place or the Greatest Satan depending . . . .

One store owner in West commented that these foreign kids are "not as particular as Americans" and so don't expect wages or working conditions to be as good as their American counterparts have come to expect. (Translated into English that means: "We can work these kids six days a week at minimum wage, charge them a bundle for board and room, and the won't complain -- at least not very loudly.)

But another thing that struck me was the fact that these young kids, who apparently were having some mighty good experiences among us, were going to go home in the fall. What kind of stories would they tell friends, family and neighbors? Is this international exchange an opportunity to develop some good friends who might be willing to try to stand with us when we need it some day in the future? Or will they realize that they have been used as cheap labor and have simply been taken as suckers?

Is this another aspect of the Great American Entitlement Mentaility at work? Are employers entitled to use and abuse their workers, regardless of where they may have come from? Are we not only cheating American young people, but perhaps risking loss of a chance to make friends from abroad?

Okay, EC. Then tell me this. How do 18,000 administrators "improve" higher education at the University of Washington. That is 400 for every 1,000 students. At that ratio, the students should be taking a cruise. The increasing cost of higher education is explained by those bureaucrats--all of whom draw above $50,000 a year. The highest paid, our new football coach, makes $6.5 million a year. The university protests that is the "market price" for football coaches, then makes the faculty 37 percent part-time. Part-time faculty and full-time salary pigs explain the demise of higher education in the United States. Scholarships? Yes, we have them, but they pay barely 20 percent of the costs. Who gets the full-time scholarships? Of course, the football players. Another market-driven cost, as we say. I know young people and I know universities, and I know how many students are struggling just to get by. I struggled some in the 1960s, but not like these kids have to struggle if one of their parents has died.

Rick brings up another good point. The concessionaires are increasly hiring abroad. Why? Because the park seasons have lengthened into shoulder seasons that summertime vacations can no longer supply. Often when the job holder is needed most, he or she needs to return to college. More than one lodge manager has asked me not to "recommend" a student unless that student can drop out for at least six months. Some do, taking six or seven years to finish college, when most of us easily finished in the standard four.

It's a mess, and the mess could easily be solved, again, if we would stop arguing that everything must serve "the market." I love it when Bill Gates says we need better college graduates, then asks to hire what he needs abroad. Get a good education and go to the back of the line. Why? Because he wants to pay his employees less. It's a scam, and we need to end it. Now, where were we on the national parks?

Dr. Runte,

Your point about the rising costs for a basic university education creating

sizeable student loan debts is well taken since "student debtors' prison" prevents

many young couples from qualifying for a house mortgage, not to mention a

family visit to a national park especially those where the NPS has allowed Xanterra

to upscale the entire experience for the "high end" earners. When we use to visit

Crater Lake Lodge with an elderhostel group, lodge management became furious

that these elders dare sit inside the Great Hall (out of the cold wind) with their box

lunches. Many of these elders could easily afford the high priced dining room, but

they had learned frugality long ago and managed their assets well to avoid debt.

At times, one even had to bring their own toilet paper for use in the Lodge public

restrooms because Xanterra maintenance was poor at best. The young people

serving guests in the dining room often are from other countries and just beginning to

understand American Cultures, so they would not dare provide any negative input about

Xanterra in their "slave labor" status. The original Crater Lake Lodge with all its

maintenance issues did weather 75 winters with little maintenance, but was far

more affordable for families. So, by rebuilding the Lodge, the historians who

"saved the lodge" from upper NPS management (NPS decided to remove it in 1989)

allowed the "high end" to gain entry vs the middle class. Rebuilding was accomplished

through Oregon's Senior Senator Mark Hatfield. So, when the Pacific Crest Trail Hikers

arrive this month from their trek beginning near the Mexican border, some lodge guests

perceive these visitors arriving on foot to be "homeless tramps" invading their "Private

Reserve." Again, on the issues of rising university expenses driving

student debt burden, one University of Idaho Administration priority is focused on

spending a few million dollars from the University Foundation to rebuild a mansion

for the next University President who will probably be treated like royality with little

effective concern about rising student debt. So, the future dwindling middle class

families will not be able to afford visits to national parks, and given their children focused

on digital devices indoors will not be learning and discovering the Beauty of the Creation

found in the parks' forests and wildlife.

When I worked for Xanterra in 2003 at Yellowstone, my roomate was a university student from Bulgaria. The internationals that work for Xanterra in Yellowstone(there were over 500 from 27 countries in 2013) are students with J-1 or F-1 visas.

The Girl Scout camp I worked at one summer during college also used one of these J-1 visa companies to hire international staff. About 20% of the staff that summer(1992) were from half a dozen foreign countries.

How do 18,000 administrators "improve" higher education at the University of Washington.

Never said they improve education. I just made the point that if the money isn't coming out of the students' pockets, they have no incentive to resist rising costs. Its that indifference that lets this public entity pad its payroll and bloat its bureaucracy. The removal of market forces is precisely what is causing the balooning cost. Its the same factor that will doom Obamacare.

BTW - The football program - even after paying the coach - is a net contributor.

their "slave labor" status

M13- Please report the names of these people to the Justice department. I am sure they would like to know that people are being forced to work against their will.

Kind of interesting the complaints here about aliens that have come into the country legally through our visa system. I'd wager many of those complaining are giddy over our open borders and potential amnesty for criminal aliens.

A very good dialogue, but I think we have exhausted it. Oh, heck, why shouldn't I get the last word? Yes, the university football program is a net contributor--to itself and other sports. I have never seen the football program fund a history position, or for that matter someone in the medical school right across the street. The day when the football program starts funding any faculty position is the day when I will sit down and shut up. Then it will indeed be a net contributor to the university instead of the monopoly it is now. Finally, I like the foreign kids in our national parks--always have and always will. I just don't like the assertion that American kids are substandard hires because they need to return to school. That is where they should be--and the foreign kids, as well, if not at a university then in a first-class trade school that will teach them productive lifetime skills.

I have never seen the football program fund a history position

And I have never seen a history department fund the football team. So what. Your initial suggestion was that the football coach was getting paid so much money and drawing it away from educational expenditures. The fact is, its not. It is self funded and funds many other sports activities as well. If you have a lousy coach because you don't pay him enough, you won't fund those other activities and the football program may be a drain rather than a contributor.

The day when the football program starts funding any faculty position is the day when I will sit down and shut up.

Then you should be silent. How many of your history students that DO pay for the history department come to your school, at least partially, because it has a strong football team. The number isn't zero.

Complaining about the cost of Yosemite accomodations is a bit ironic, when a few months ago, we had an article on the NPT complaining about the overcrowding of Yosemite. :) Apparently, campsites get all booked in a matter of days, it not hours (I would not know, I can't stand camping). The Ahwanee is exhorbitantly priced, but then again, there's only one, and they don't seem to have any issue selling out. For fun, I just tried to make a reservation. Well, there's a room available this w-e and then there are only 3 nights (on separate days) available for all of August.

The above is telling me that the Awhanee could probably charge even more, and that camping is totally underpriced based on current demand.

Frankly, I'd rather see the parks charge prices that reflect the seasonal demand. Use the extra funds to take care of the maintenance backlog.

As for the cost of higher education, I agree that this has become completely ridiculous. If we start pricing the middle class out of the one great equalizer in our society, we're in for a lot of trouble, but this is no longer about the parks. :)

Agreed, Zebulon. (The parallel to the parks is indeed getting a bit obscure here. But fortunately, there are plenty of state universities that provide much better educations at a far lower cost than their private counterparts.--Not sure how that situation translates analogously to the parks.)

there are plenty of state universities that provide much better educations at a far lower cost than their private counterparts.-

It would be interesting to see that documented, especially after the tax payers subsidies are included in the cost.


The Asian students you encountered at Canyon were most likely from China or Taiwan. Students from South Korea are only eligible for the J-1 Visa program between mid-December and the end of February.

Starting wages for employers in the Greater Yellowstone area appear to be between $7.80-8.80, so not minimum wage. I know that Xanterra is paying a starting wage of $8.20. The weekly room and board charge is $99+tax(Wyoming taxes concessionaire's room and board).The housing costs outside the Park vary, but most seem to be charging between $50-80/week and I doubt those include meals.

With all the palpatations about the concessionaires gouging their customers, noone has produced any actual P&L to show that is truly the case. While the rates at the Alwahnee would seem to provide a nice profit, how about the other operations that are part of the concession package. Could in fact the Alwahnee be subsidizing the other operations making them more affordable than they otherwise would be?

If in fact the consessionaire was making outrageous profits, the rebidding of the franchise would remove those "excess" profits, assuming the bidding process was open and fair. I don't buy the notion the parks have been priced out of the average persons budget nor that the concessionaires are gouging the public.

Thank you for a memory jog, Sara. It was Taiwan.

And ec, what would you call this:

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Gouging or "nice profit?"

Strong universities make for strong national parks, at least, they used to. That is the relevance factor behind our universities' decline--and the problems we face in national parks. I will offer just one name--Joseph Grinnell. I write about him extensively in Yosemite: The Embattled Wilderness. Consider all of the young people he trained and inspired to become custodians of our national parks. I see no one like that at the University of California, Berkeley, now, or most other universities for that matter. I rather see people increasingly immersed in themselves trying to survive a system that is all about pleasing the bureaucracy. The students are struggling to do the same, trying to get that credential no matter what. There is no time for great ideas or great passions. It is all about the money now. How much money can you bring into the university, and if you can't, you have no value. Teaching? Service? What are those? Show me da money, like they do in sports.

You think that isn't killing your national parks? Think again. We don't have a country anymore. We just have an economy. That's all we talk about from morning till night. But hey, the "action" this morning is all in Wyoming, where another idiot says that Yellowstone stands in our way. Check out his university and see what it's teaching. Money again, I would bet.

An excellent commentary on the pitiful state of our society, Dr. Runte.

Nauseating, isn't it?

Mr. Runte, I think that your link between universities and the Parks is tenuous at best, but to each his/her opinions.

EC, on the subject of university costs (I know we digress again...). In CA, the cal state system tuition used to be nominal in the early 80s (like $50 a quarter or something). When I went in the mid 90s, it was about $600 a quarter (still a great bargain). Today, it's $1,600 a quarter (all costs for a CA resident). The delta is almost purely due to the decrease in state financial support of the university system. As one economic professor of mine said once: since the majority of students in the Cal State system come from families that are well off already, the state support for the Cal State system is a subsidy from everybody to those that need it the least. Something to ponder.

Ok, back to concessions. Is there some kind of royalty system/profit sharing scheme with the parks? I'm curious.

I like your latest comment, Alfred Runte. The culture of the univeristy does seem to be changing in that direction. (One can see it, for example, in what now passes for assessment of teaching and learning.) There is, I would say, a space for the kind of inquiry you're talking about, and which was the culture of my undergraduate experience in the 90s, but that does seem to be increasingly marginalized within many univerisities and perhaps only sustained in the elite univeristies (although we might disgaree to some extent on this last point). (I have a friend who works at AAAS and teaches in Georgetown's School of Foreign Service, and we often kick around the idea of an interdisciplinary Roosevelt Studies (T.R. of course). Imagine the uphill fight to get that funded.)

I haven't posted on this blog for a long time for the simple fact that when a person of sound judgement posts such as Mr Alfred Runte who appears to have facts and knowldege on these issues he is blasted by a group of I know it all and I want you to know that I have all the anwsers to these growing concerns that face this nation.Thank you Mr Runte for your imput but don't think for one minute that your point of view will sink in to these spammers.

Yes, every concessioniare pays a franchise fee. Now, about that link between universities and the national parks--and why the link is critical. Just where do beginning rangers get their educations? I will give you another name, then, Grant W. Sharpe, the late professor of forestry (wildland recreation) at the University of Washington. The core of his teaching was all about interpretation. As a beginning scholar himself, he designed the Hall of Mosses Trail in the Hoh Rain Forest at Olympic National Park. Before graduating, all of his students had to do something comparable, including learning to give a major slide presentation with dueling Kodak projectors and dissolve. Today, Grant's students can be found in dozens of our major national parks, national forests, state parks, city parks, and other sites. He served 18 seasons as a seasonal ranger himself, principally in Acadia, Shenandoah, Glacier, and Olympic national parks.

It takes mentors to make great students who go on to do important things. Students need teachers they can look up to. I am proud of my students, too. In fact, one of them hired me as HER seasonal in Yosemite National Park. When the concessionaire insisted that I be fired (oops, can't tell the truth, you know), she stuck by me--and the truth--like glue. I went through a week of "rehabilitation" that concluded 10 years later with Yosemite: The Embattled Wilderness. Speaking of which, this is the centennial year of Joseph Grinnell's transect of the park, and the 90th anniversity of his Animal Life in the Yosemite. Both were student researched and supported. In 1920, it was Grinnell's students that began the official Park Service interpretive program in Yosemite Valley. Stephen Mather hired them but Grinnell had trained them--Harold C. Bryant and Loye Holmes Miller. George Melendez Wright, who died tragically in 1936, was also a favorite student of Grinnell's, as was Carl Sharsmith, perhaps Yosemite's most famous seasonal and a distinguished botanist/biologist in his own right.

Behind every national park is a distinguished teacher--or teachers. That is how the parks came to be. Perhaps the first teachers were government surveyors, but soon the tide turned to editors, professors, writers, and other activists. The point is: All of them believed in informing the American public of what the country stood to lose. That is the heritage the friends groups are supposed to continue, not just fund raising. And most of them do, thank goodness. Like the Park Service's interpreters, the field institutes and the classes make the parks come alive. If ever we give up that we give up everything that the national parks are supposed to be. You bet that an educated public matters, which is to explain why higher education should not be allowed to fail the parks.


I think you and I shared a mentor, Dr. Roderick Nash at UCSB. His classes there were almost always sold out.


Well, "an educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people". As for students choosing to study fields that lead to steady employment, I really can't fault them.

And ec, what would you call this:

Without seeing the entire P&L I can't answer that, and neither can you.

I think the answer of why that 1.5lb of hamburger cost $16.27 at Mesa Verde can be found in this NPT article by Kay and David Scott:

This is NPS's most recent markup bulletin:


This is fascinating. So, somebody at the concessionnaire has to figure what they buy and kind of mark up they're allowed on each product. That seems silly. It'd probably more efficient to let the market play out and have the NPS take its cut.

So, what do you mean by "...let the market play out...", Zeb?

Dittos on Rick's comment Alfred Runte, I appreciate your posts and think you are right on. We are bombarded by money transactions, bottom line is all that matters. It has become an obsession even in NPS management levels. I think even Alan Greespan is having second thoughts

about the teaching of the Chicago School of Economics (the Chicago Boys).