In response to the National Park Service’s (NPS) plans to allow corporate sponsorships and partnerships, Commercial Alert submitted comments to NPS on May 16, 2016, urging it to uphold the integrity of our national parks and not move forward with Director’s Order #21: Philanthropic Partnerships.

Dear National Park Service,

Commercial Alert is a project of Public Citizen, a consumer protection organization based in Washington, D.C., with more than 400,000 members and supporters. We aim to keep commercial culture within its proper sphere, and to prevent it from exploiting children and subverting higher values of family, community, environmental integrity, and democracy.

Public Citizen strongly urges the National Park Service not to move forward with Director’s Order #21: Philanthropic Partnerships, at least the elements that contemplate corporate sponsorships, partnerships and other entanglements. This proposal would dishonor the national parks and the legacy of the generations which built them up, and degrade the national treasure for future generations.

During a time when the National Park Service is in dire need of additional monies to preserve and maintain parks, we understand the pressure to find alternative forms of revenue. However, allowing corporations to put logos on benches and advertisements on large screens would do lasting damage to integrity of our national parks. Whether or not it makes sense in monetary terms – and the financial benefits should not be assumed – it will do unacceptable damage to the underlying spirit of the National Parks, informed by Theodore Roosevelt’s observation that conservation of natural resources is “essentially democratic in spirit, purpose, and method:”

• Citizens are constantly bombarded with aggressive corporate advertising and influence everywhere they go; our national parks should provide a space for people to escape corporate clutter, a haven from a world where everything seems to be for sale.
• Allowing corporations naming rights and space for advertisements will inevitably result in corporate-influenced park policy. Disproportionate attention will be devoted to resources and assets attractive to corporate sponsors, at the expense of investment, maintenance and promotion of other National Park assets.
• Business sponsorships enable corporations to skim the benefits of 100 years of public stewardship, as well as ongoing public support that vastly exceeds anything corporations might contribute.
• To read Director’s Order #21 is to see the inevitable perils that arise from corporate entanglements. The order identifies certain businesses with which NPS will not partner, though troublingly states that it will partner with alcohol companies. Just to read the acknowledgement of potential problems with potential natural resource company sponsors is to see that those problems are inescapable and not open to satisfactory resolution.

America’s National Parks have long served as an open resource for all citizens to explore, build social ties and camaraderie and learn from the natural world void of commercial intrusions. They are a commons – a public trust – supported and shared by all, equally, with no privileged access based on wealth or social status, free from commercial or interest group capture. That is what Theodore Roosevelt understood to be their democratic spirit.

Corporate sponsorships are antithetical to that vision. This centennial year of the National Park Service is the time to reinvigorate, not abandon, that essential democratic character. We urge you to abandon plans for corporate sponsorships at our great national parks.

Robert Weissman
President, Public Citizen

Kristen Strader
Campaign Coordinator, Commercial Alert

Read more: