Missing Signature on NPCA Park Letter to Congress

Yesterday the National Parks and Conservation Association sent a letter to Congress, which was also published as full-page ads in Roll Call and the Washington Post. The letter urges congress to meet or exceed the funding challenges of the parks, especially as the National Park Service approaches its 100th anniversary in 2016. The letter makes reference to similar efforts 50 years ago by the Eisenhower administration which created $1 billion for the parks in a program called Mission 66. What makes this letter of particular interest is the list of prominent Americans who have signed it. Have a look for yourself at the letter and the names of those who approve it:

NPCA Letter Signed by 100 Prominent Americans [pdf]

This list is pretty great, with names including President Jimmy Carter, David McCullough, NYC Mayor Bloomberg, Jerry Seinfield, Walter Cronkite, Lee Iacocca, Ted Turner, and more. The list literally goes on and on. A collection of former National Park Service Directors, former Secretaries of Interior, former congress people are all there too. And the list of names isn't too weighted on either side of the political aisle, a fair mix of both republicans and democrats.

But there is a name missing. Did you notice that the name of Derrick Crandall, the President and CEO of the American Recreation Coalition (ARC), was not on the list? This is a guy who just days ago was seated next to the Chairman of the NPCA at the invitation of the President of the United States for a very exclusive meeting about the future of the Parks. The same fellow who was described at that meeting as the "recreation guru" by Secretary of Interior Kempthorne. Who wouldn't expect to see this guy's name on the list?

But the ARC is not squeaky clean in the conservation community. For the uninitiated, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the people behind the American Recreation Coalition were largely responsible for the failed attempt at rewriting the NPS management policies last year which would have relaxed rules for noise and pollution that currently exist within parks, and which would have created more opportunities for motorized recreation, like those that exist currently for snowmobiles in Yellowstone. And so, in my opinion, it made sense that Crandall's name wasn't on the list. The NPCA is working with the parks to push an agenda of conservation and preservation, the ARC is not.

I spoke today with Ron Tipton about the letter and its signatories. Ron has been the Senior Vice President for Programs at the NPCA since 2000. I had asked if the absence of Crandall's name had been intentional. I was told not to read too much into which names were or were not present on the list. The objective of the list was to bring together easily recognizable names for the benefit of the parks, there was no secret message hidden between the lines. To confirm, I asked whether this was a snub at the ARC, and was told that it was definitely not. And besides, many of the ARC's tightest cronies are represented on the list.

A closer look reveals that Andy Todd of Xanterra is on the list, so is Gary Kiedaisch of Coleman -- Gary was also at the recent Park meeting with President Bush last week in Shenandoah. Roger Dow of the Travel Industry Association is on the list. Frank Hugelmeyer of the Outdoor Industry Association is on the list too. The OIA up until sometime during the last year were members of the ARC. And so if these folks are on the list, it makes the absence of Crandall's name even more of a mystery. It seems clear to me that there was a deliberate decision made by somebody to leave him off the list. But by whom? And why?

I do not know the answers to these questions, I can only speculate. Perhaps it is the NPCA which wishes to keep its relationship with the ARC out of the public light. It would make sense, the NPCA fought so hard to keep the ARC's management changes from gaining approval. How would it look to the NPCA membership if they were now seeking cooperation with Crandall and the ARC on their letter to congress? Or, is it possible that it was even Crandall himself that asked not to be included? Perhaps there are people on the list who would not have contributed their names had Crandall's name been included. Bill Wade of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees has his name on the list, and, like the NPCA, the CNPSR worked aggressively to stop the ARC's management plan. Would Wade have signed if Crandall's name was present? When I spoke with Ron Tipton at the NPCA, he told me that the ARC were in the process of crafting their own letter to congress, and that it was possible Crandall didn't need his name on both letters.

I think when I called the NPCA, I expected to learn the answer to Crandall's absence from the list was obvious, that the organization wanted to distance itself from the ARC. But, I think I was most surprised to learn that no attempt at creating separation between the two organizations was intended or should even be inferred. Does that surprise you too?


Difficult times make for strange bedfellows - maybe we should count our blessings (few as they may be), such as the fact that NPCA found 100 people willing to sign the letter