Parks as Corporate Billboards

OK, this is a biggie. This is the type of subject that can really get people angry: Corporate sponsorship of our National Parks. Currently, there is a proposal to solicit private funds for the parks. Some see this as a an opportunity for eco-criminals, like oil companies, to come in and promote their own unfiltered message of love for the environment to an unsuspecting crowd visiting hallowed ground, like Yosemite Valley. Well, guess what?? The oil companies are already there!I can see why people would have an over-the-top fear of big-business entering the National Parks. These places are supposed to be "off limits" to commercial interests. Our park system is supposed to be the one place you can go in this world to escape the overwhelming crush of corporate greed. The single place in our country where time and money don't matter. The idea that within the protected walls of a National Park, you can breath deep the pure unpolluted air of a wilderness experience. The reality of our parks is a bit different though. If you've been in Yosemite Valley in the middle of summer you already know this. Breathing deep means sucking in a lot of exhaust from cars, or an experience hiking means searching for your car in packed out parking lots. Seeing the sights means checking out Bridal Veil falls, and then touring the many gift shops, restaurants, and art galleries of the Valley.

Commercial interests in the Park Service go back to the very beginning of the Park Service. It was train lines that built the first great lodges in the parks, like those found in Glacier, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon. Before the rise of the automobile, a cross-country vacation on a train would take you deep into the seemingly uncharted territory of the parks. We travel today to the parks looking for a similar experience. We want to hear the wisdom of the Park Rangers, to drive on well maintained roads, to read informative signs on our nature walks, and to be entertained by orientation films. But that experience comes at a cost, a cost that is not nearly being covered by our nation's budget. What is the solution?

A lot of people may not agree with me, but I think there is room for compromise. I wasn't kidding when I said that Exxon is already in Yosemite Valley. There is a trail just beyond Curry Village with nice wayside signs giving interpretation about the Valley. The content is pure Park Service, the money for the sign is from pure oil profits. There are no logos however. This current draft would allow logos, but very small, and only in the credit line. I don't think anyone wants to see branding at every turn in the trail. No one wants to see a sign proclaiming that "Ol' Faithful is as Reliable as this Timex". But, it takes money to run a National Park. Parks by their very nature don't generate an income. Your entrance fees hardly make a dent in the operational budget of the park you are visiting. That money has to come from somewhere. Why not have it come from those willing to give it?

Parks: Glacier, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite