Ribe: Commercializing our national parks is a bad idea
Now, it seems that this refuge from commercialism is at an end. Out of financial desperation, Congress and the Washington Office of the National Park Service have decided on a new policy that allows advertising in our national parks. Corporations will help bridge the huge gap between what Congress appropriates and what the National Park Service needs to maintain and protect our national treasures.
Here’s how the new policy works: Corporations will be allowed to plaster their logos on park buses, benches, visitor center walls and other facilities, in return for donations to the National Park Foundation. Advertising banners could be hung from walls and perhaps cliffs and trees. Corporations will be able to put their logos and slogans on sidewalks and auditoriums. The ranger evening campfire program may become the Coke or Exxon evening program. And soon, visitor centers may be named for car companies or sleep aids.
Our parks face many serious problems, but those problems won’t be solved by corporate branding. The answer is to quit nickel-and-diming the Park Service and encourage public support for robust budgets. To celebrate the centennial of the National Park Service, Congress could vote to pay off the maintenance backlog over the next five years and double the annual appropriations to the agency over the long term. Congress could also establish an endowment for the national parks, much as museums and hospitals have done to stabilize their funding.