Are Concessionaires Trying to Destroy the Parks?

Crater Lake Lodge : NPS PhotoI feel like I've been lied to. I have defended the right of concessionaires to operate the lodges inside of our most treasured National Parks, including places like the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Crater Lake. After all, it should not be the responsibility of park rangers to check you into your hotel, that type of task should be handled by a vendor. These vendors, companies like Delaware North, Forever Resorts, and Xanterra have a responsibility back to the parks in which they operate. The National Parks are a unique place to do business, and you would expect these companies to respect the unique nature of their operating environment. Indeed, it is the very nature of this environment that draws the tourists and their dollars to these park attractions.

These concessionaires realize that selling a clean corporate image is very necessary to attract the type of clientele willing to drop big bucks at their hotels. For instance, Xanterra's website includes an entire section about their environmentally responsible behavior. Part of a letter on the site even claims:
We'd like future historians to say: 'How odd, that the idea for truly sustainable business in national parks came from a corporation.' It's not so odd to us: our environmental work is our homage to the national parks'one of the great and humbling ideas of our time.
How odd indeed, especially when you consider that this group of concessionaires allied together under the National Park Hospitality Association (NPHA) worked to radically change the very definition of our National Parks. In 2005 a new draft version of the National Park Management Policies popped up in a most unusual place, from the pen of Paul Hoffman, an official in the Interior Department who had zero formal association with the Park Service. Hoffman's proposed changes would have allowed far greater park intrusions from motorized recreation, including off-road vehicles, snowmobiles, and helicopters (scenic flights). The rules would have relaxed restrictions on noise, air pollution, and would have even allowed things like rock concerts. Nobody seemed to want these changes, and when pressed, Paul Hoffman couldn't (or wouldn't) reveal who had been asking for these changes. The Department of the Interior received over 45,000 comments, presumably in opposition to Hoffman's draft. The Park Service was asked to craft another rewrite (now known as the 2006 Draft) which, when accepted, will set the National Parks back on their course of conservation.

The amazing thing is, the groups that pushed for the Hoffman changes are now upset about the newest draft, and they are being surprisingly vocal about it. Who are these groups? Answers revealed by examining who would have the most to gain:

Q: What industry would have gained the most from motorized recreation within the parks?
A: The motorized recreation industry, represented by the American Recreation Coalition who's members include the RV industry, the snowmobile industry, the motorcycle industry, and the powerboat industry to name a few.

Q: And which companies would have the most to gain from increased privatization opportunities within the parks?
A: The private for-profit industries which are already in operation within the parks, the big concessionaires, represented by the National Park Hospitality Association.

At this point you may be thinking I'm being unfair to the concessionaires, specifically by singling out Xanterra. But Xanterra is not merely a member of the NPHA, they are presumably a driving force for the organization. A representative of Xanterra currently sits on the board of the NPHA, and the Xanterra CEO Andrew Todd, just stepped down as NPHA president. And so, what would you expect the organization which is driven by these "environmentally conscious" corporations would have to say about the new 2006 Management Policy Draft which returns the National Parks to a mission of conservation? ( from npha website - "what's new" )
The 2005 Draft was a significant improvement over the 2001 NPS Management Policies constructed by the Clinton Administration. ... Unfortunately, the 2006 Draft returns, with no uncertainty, back to and even reinforces the policies of the Clinton Administration's position that conservation of resources is always predominant over the use of the resources by the visiting public. ... Thus, it is not difficult to see that the Park Service is heading down a road that when a motorized recreational activity, like boating, interferes with a park visitor who desires quiet and solitude, the Park Service will move to curtail or even prohibit boating. This is exactly what has happened in the Grand Canyon in regard to air tour overflights in that national park. The air tour industry is still fighting for its business life as the Park Service keeps whittling away at it.
Xanterra will tell you to your face that they are doing everything possible to save the earth, but behind your back, they crafted a plan to tear down the solitude you seek in return for new guests arriving in motorboats, helicopters, and snowmobiles. I am reminded again of John Muir's words, "These temple destroyers, devotees of ravaging commercialism, seem to have a perfect contempt for Nature, and, instead of lifting their eyes to the God of the mountains, lift them to the Almighty Dollar." It feels like an ugly truth. I had believed that a for-profit company could operate inside the Parks without compromising the NPS mission, but now that the true motivation of these companies has been revealed to me, I feel sick about the "service" they provide.