The National Park Service and its 411 parks, monuments, memorials and battlefields have long been a haven from commercialization. But that may soon change with the introduction of new NPS rules that would allow — and in some cases, require — the sites to accept corporate sponsorship to fill budget shortfalls.
The new rules, proposed by NPS Director Jon Jarvis, are spelled out in a document called Director's Order #21: Philanthropic Partnerships. In it, Jarvis lays out a plan that would allow corporate sponsorships and branding opportunities in ways that have never been tried in the parks before.
There has been a lot of speculation about what this could mean for our nation's parks. Disney-themed visitor center exhibits? The end of the bottled water ban in the Grand Canyon? Or Old Faithful, brought to you by Viagra?
Don't worry, that level of commercialization is still off-limits for now. But here's what DO21 does allow: The new rule would allow corporate logos on things like signs, brochures, posters and banners, digital media, some exhibits and even NPS vehicles. Naming rights for roads or major NPS sites are not up for grabs, but they are viable for things like paving stones, auditorium seating, benches and bear-proof lockers. The new order also allows sponsors to be involved in the design, construction and oversight of new facilities, exhibits, structures and trails.
Bringing more private dollars into the national parks is not a new idea. In 2003, the Bush administration proposed a plan that would have outsourced 70 percent of federally funded NPS jobs to private contractors. Critics of the plan called it a slippery slope that could result in the full privatization of national parks.
But proponents of the new plan hope that the partnerships could be mutually beneficial, giving corporate sponsors more visibility in national parks while filling huge holes in park budgets, such as the $12 billion maintenance backlog at parks across the nation. The sponsorships could also help increase the visibility of the park service, especially among young visitors, a demographic the park service is having a hard time attracting.
If adopted, DO21 will go into effect in the fall. You can expect to see those corporate logos by the end of the year.