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What Do Park Concessionaires Want?


    By now you've likely seen the post over at Park Remark about the national park concession industry's stand on the latest version of the Park Service's Management Policies...that it's too conservation-based.
    That seems like a most-peculiar position. I mean, wouldn't you think concessionaires would want the parks to remain as pristine and natural as possible to continue to lure visitors? Wouldn't they prefer a form of the Management Policies that strongly endorses conservation of the resources foremost rather than one that could allow the parks to become beaten down and shabby?
    Of course, I shouldn't be so naive, particularly in light of past positions. Back in February during an appearance before the House parks subcommittee the chairman of Delaware North Companies Parks and Resorts, Inc., testified that it seemed the Management Policies didn't pay enough deference to public enjoyment of the parks.

    Hmmm, where have I heard that comment before? Oh yeah, I first heard it from the mouth of none other than Paul Hoffman, the Interior official who's widely associated with the first disastrous draft of the Management Policies. Way back in October the infamous Mr. Hoffman, who has since been banished into a back room far from his old job and its sway over the Park Service, told reporters that the 2001 version of the MPs were "anti-enjoyment."
     Then, back in April during a congressional hearing into park visitation, representatives from the concessions industry and gateway associations reiterated concerns that national parks weren't fun enough, that the Park Service was impeding "traditional recreation," a euphemism for snowmobiles and other gas-powered toys.
    And yet Fran and Gale went around touting the Park Service's high, 96 percent satisfaction rating from the general public. Oops.
    Anyway, it is disturbing to read how disappointed the concessionaires are with the latest version of the Management Policies. I won't ramble through their thoughts here. You can read them for yourself here.
    What I do find interesting is that while concessionaires won't mention what their occupancy rates are in their park lodges, they will recommend that you book four or months out if you have a particular date in mind. Have you ever tried to walk into the Old Faithful Inn in July or August and sought a room without a reservation. Ain't happening. Ditto with the Jackson Lake Lodge, the Yosemite Lodge and countless other park lodges.
    Business secrets and proprietary information aside, is that symptomatic of a disgruntled or waning visitor base?
    I want to see the concessionaires be successful, and the national parks need them to succeed. They offer many great programs within the national parks, contribute to the upkeep of historic park structures, and allow us to spend incredible nights inside park boundaries.
    And yet, the concessionaires' collective thinking seems to indicate that they're not listening to their clientele. According to a survey by the Outdoor Industry Association, most national park visitors desire quiet and solitude during their visits. They're not motorheads.
    Again, I find the concessionaires' position odd. Surely they don't want a park overrun by snowmobiles or overflights, one in which you can't hear yourself think or you have to worry about your children being run over or wildlife habitat being so whittled away that the parks become biologically barren.
    For if that's the vision they have, then they will have no one but themselves to blame for declining park visitation and the ruination of what long has been dubbed the best idea America has ever had.


In fairness to the Park concessionaires, even this blog has noted previously that Park visitation seems to be down from what it used to be, despite this nation's ever-growing population. I don't know that anyone has a perfect explanation for this decline, but the concessionaires surely have an interest in boosting Park visitation. While the current visitors may be satisfied, it isn't unreasonable for them to think that it might be possible to increase visitation through increased recreation opportunities.

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