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Of Percentages, Budgets And Privatizing Parks


    As newspapers around the country pick up on the theme that the national park system is going downhill because of budget woes, the same increasingly weary refrain from Washington surfaces in the stories: Visitor surveys continually reflect satisfaction rates of  95 percent or higher.
    That does sound fairly impressive. Until you realize that last year 273.5 million people visited the parks. Now, if 95 percent said they were satisfied, that translates into 259.8 million visitors, meaning that nearly 14 million folks weren't satisfied.
    Someone should ask National Park Service Director Fran Mainella and Deputy Interior Secretary Lynn Scarlett whether that's a number they're proud of....

    Ms. Scarlett, who lost her "acting-director" title last week when the Senate confirmed Dirk Kempthorne as Gale Norton's successor, trotted out the satisfaction survey when interviewed by the Denver Post.
    "We won't have that visitor enjoyment if we don't have the resources intact," she told the newspaper. "It was never our intention to move away from that."
    Ms. Scarlett also said the Park Service's 2007 budget proposal was down in construction dollars because the Bush administration is trying to reduce the budget deficit it created.
    Well, U.S. Senator Ken Salazaar, D-Colo., had a nice retort to that comment when the Post contacted him: "The administration has stood for providing tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans. The consequence is that we run these huge deficits, so there's more pressure to take money away from important programs like education and parks." 

    Here's a question top DOI and NPS officials should field: How does the Bush administration see the future of the national park system? As the park system struggles to hold its collective head above water, non-profit friends groups are trying to field a bigger financial responsibility.
    The folks at the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation  just announced they have entered the licensed product market to help finance the projects and programs they provide the scenic parkway, and the Yellowstone Park Foundation recently donated $15 million so the park could afford a new visitor center at Old Faithful.
    Those are just two examples of what's transpiring across the national park system. To some extent it's all well and good. But how long before more and more friends groups go down this path, pick up more projects that national parks traditionally have handled on their own, and those in Washington react by continuing to reduce the NPS's budget? This perceived death spiral, if left unchecked, could perhaps end with private entities taking over our national parks.
    Don't think so? Follow this link and see the path Texas' state park system ventured down under a governor by the name of George W. Bush. And once you're done reading that piece, skip over to the Reason Foundation's web site to see what it thinks of privatizing America's parks, both state and national.
    And while you're reading that Reason Foundation article, keep in mind that Lynn Scarlett -- yep, Ms. Scarlett from up above -- once was president of the Reason Foundation. With that understood, you have to wonder if she really buys into this deficit reduction business and its impact on the park system, or whether she's thrilled times are so difficult for the parks because private interests are being forced to step up for them.

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