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Interior Secretary Zinke: NPS Staff Can Clean Restrooms, But Not Manage Campgrounds


Interior Secretary Zinke isn't high on the National Park Service operating campgrounds, such as this one at Capitol Reef National Park/Kurt Repanshek

What exactly is Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's vision of the National Park Service in years to come? That's a pertinent question not only in light of the Trump administration's directive that Interior shed $1.5 billion from its budget for the coming fiscal year, and cut nearly 1,250 full-time positions from the Park Service, but also because of the secretary's view of the skill set of Park Service employees.

During an appearance last week before the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association, Secretary Zinke voiced his desire to outsource various aspects of running the National Park System, and the topic of operating campgrounds came up.

"As the secretary, I don't want to be in the business of running campgrounds," the secretary said, according to a story by E&E News. "My folks will never be as good as you are."

Going a step further, Mr. Zinke added that, "We'll be looking at where our employees should be spending their time. ... Yes, cleaning the bathrooms. But actually running services, that's something we should be pushing to somebody who's updated and knows the market better."

Now, the RVIA expertise is not in managing campgrounds, but rather as serving as a trade group for RV manufacturers and parts suppliers. The National Park Service, however, has a long history of managing campgrounds. For the secretary to state that park employees should be cleaning bathrooms while managing campgrounds is outsourced runs counter to that history. 

"The NPS has a long and proud history of managing campgrounds across the country. We have many repeat customers who come to the parks because our rangers and maintenance employees provide quality services and programs that result in an outstanding visitor experience," said Phil Francis, who wrapped up his 41-year Park Service career with eight years as superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway, which has eight campgrounds.

"I have met a number of NPS employees over the years who decided to join the NPS as a result of meeting park rangers while camping and hiking in national parks. It is important that the Service be allowed to continue that traditional service," he continued in an email to the Traveler.

Beyond that, Mr. Francis added that outsourcing management of campgrounds is not a good solution for the Park Service.

"I have had some experience with contracted campgrounds, and have found that the Service is asked to continue much of the maintenance workload, especially capital projects when campgrounds are contracted out, thus allowing private operators to receive a return on investment that they expect," he said. "While we can always strive to improve, my decades of experience tells me that this idea will likely not work."

Also opposed to privately managed campgrounds is the National Parks Conservation Association, where John Garder said past experience has shown it's not a panacea for insufficient Park Service funding.

"While concessions play an important role in our parks, so do the many park rangers who are a central part of the experience for the visitors who value them. And as the Park Service found in both the '80s and '90s when it examined possibilities for privatizing additional services, it's usually not cost-efficient because the private sector needs to make a profit ... unless of course fees are increased to a point that they're likely inappropriately high for public lands Americans collectively own," said Mr. Garder, NPCA's director of budget and appropriations.

What other proposals Mr. Zinke has for seeing that the Park Service provides visitors with a great experience in spite of a significant budget and staffing cut remain to be seen. While the secretary on May 23 told reporters that the president's proposed budget would allow the Park Service "to take care of what we have" across the Interior landscape, he's yet to outline proposals to explain how Interior in general, and the Park Service specifically, will do that if Congress approves the budget.

The secretary's spokeswoman, Heather Swift, when asked by the Traveler how the already straining Park Service will manage such a cut and still provide a quality visitor experience while protecting park resources, replied via email that unspecified innovations and efficiencies would make it possible.

"You're asking the question assuming process and organization remains the same, but it won't be. This administration is committed to improving the way government works by being more innovative and more efficient and by collaborating with local communities and outside partners," Ms. Swift wrote. "Plus, we will look at ways to increase revenue. Last year we made $15 billion LESS from offshore revenues than we did in 2008. That's a lot of money every year, especially when you consider the the NPS maintenance backlog is around $12 billion. The president's budget increased funding for the backlog.

"As the secretary said: 'I'm confident we will find innovative solutions for cost reduction, like public private partnerships, and revenue generation that will improve both sides of the books,'" she added.

Traveler footnote: Offshore royalties earned by the federal government from oil and gas production do not flow directly to the Interior Department or the National Park Service, and so can't be counted on to wipe out the agency's estimated maintenance backlog of roughly $11.3 billion. Nearly a third of the royalties head to the state where the fossil fuels were recovered, $150 million goes directly to the Historic Preservation Fund, up to $900 million flows to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, some goes to the federal agency that manages the area, and the remainder goes to the U.S. Treasury, according to the Interior Department.

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We dodged the "Privatize the Parks" cannonball under the Cheney administration.

But it's going to be a much more difficult battle under  the Insane administration.

I fear this is only the first salvo in what will prove to be a major battle.

Drumpf and his billionaire buddies recognize only one thing.  $$$$$$$$$. (And a Great Big Ego.)

If there is something to be gleaned from Zinke's outsourcing proposal and fuzzy math, it is to show the true colors of the Republican party with regard to public lands.  It was all a ruse to get these public lands in private, concession hands.  So he can get back on his fake Teddy Horse and ride straight to the General Accounting office and explain to the public what he did with all that "travel expenditure" money he personally blew through.

 In the meantime, before Trump gets gone, these guys are giving away every piece of taxpayer property to business interests be it at home or abroad.  Republicans need to put country over party and get rid of this dangerous fascist in the White House before someone realizes how vulnerable we are both financially and militarily with his politics of division.  Every person in his circle is crooked.  Do we need more evidence to prove the same about Comrade Trump?

Just what this country needs, even more handouts for corporations.  Besides public goodwill & legacy marketing, I'd bet the NPS also would provide law enforcement, emergency services and interpretive programs to further private profit.

What's the big to-do.  Private companies already run campgrounds in many of our parks including Yellowstone, Great Smokey, Rocky Mountain, Teton, Mesa Verde, Crater and many more. 

Maybe Mr. Zinke should stay in a few of these 'private' campgrounds.  Most 'corporate' ones are run poorly.  The rest are privately run by folks that barely scrape together a few nickels.  Campgrounds are not a profitable business, that's why they need run by the government.  The government is not all about making money, something we need to come to grips with.  Get back to me when we start making a profit defending the world from ISIS maybe.

Evidence the fiasco with the concessions contract.  The government is going to lose a ton of money on that one in the end.

A man in a new job is voicing an opinion.  How dare he!!  He should be just like the one from the Obama regime and just wait for the signal from the POTUS to see who donated to their campaign and what rules you need to change to accommodate them. Like the previous

Everyone knows that:

Private mining in national parks = Good (as long as the mining company donates to a specific private charity)

Private campgrounds in national parks = Bad 

Based on what I have read on this website the last year or so, I'm figuring if KOA gave a huge donation to "Onward Together" the opinion on private campgrounds would change and you would be in favor of them? (Onward Together is Hillary Clinton's rebranding of her foundation) 


The NPS is biting off more than they can chew. On one hand they want a 100 more national monuments and parks and on the other hand, they are screaming that they have no money to maintain the current ones.  Guess what?  You can't have it both ways. Spend your money doing your job and proving you are good stewards of the NPS system and you would be rewarded with a bonus.  Prove you prefer to play

Spend your budget doing your job and proving you are good stewards of the NPS system and you would not be in this position.  Keep playing politics and mismanage your budget, and you get your chain pulled back.  

Pretty simple to figure out

You keep getting your president's wrong.  It was the last one that gave everything to his "billionaire buddies"  and sold anything that wasn't nailed down to anyone who would donate to his campaign.  And talk about HUGE ego, who was the president that flew a 747 to the Grand Canyon to say that only He could have stopped climate change? (while standing in front of a canyon created by climate change)

Did you miss history class in school?  Your definition of Fascist is not what sane people would say it is.  Now for the rest of your clueless rant: Please show your fuzzy facts and logic.  No proposals have been made. The Trump Administration so far has been very pro National Parks and against any drilling. Whereas the Obama regime was all set to put drills in many west coast National Parks had Hillary won.  Yet you all seem to skip over the truth and go for the tinfoil hat conspiracies.  

Crooked people in his circle?  Who's circle had a tax cheat, a convicted terrorist, and criminal who sold drilling rights to Russia?  That would be Obama.  

The Republican Party as compared to the Democratic party is showing their true colors. Red, White and Blue.  The Democratic party is crumbling and now we are finally seeing just how much they hate anything American, including national parks!  Trees are racists!!   

Again, which party or president sat ideally by as the NPS let the copyrights of national landmarks go to the highest corporate bidder?  Hint: starts with a "D".  

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