Subaru spot closed Skyline Drive: park promotion or corporate commercialism?

The Washington Post
Joe Davidson

When does the use of national parks by private companies cross the line between park promotion and corporate commercialization?

That is the question raised by television spots shot in Shenandoah National Park that feature its beautiful vistas and not incidentally, a Subaru.

Skyline Drive, which runs 105 miles along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains, was partially closed in order to make the commercials during portions of two days in October. A drone, generally prohibited by park regulations, also was used in production of the spots made with National Geographic. Two 30-second videos promote the “Find Your Park” campaign by the National Park Service (NPS) and the National Park Foundation.

Park officials anticipated drone filming would be controversial, but special permission to use it was quickly granted following a flurry of emails.

Nonetheless, the ads are a “blatant example of commercialism” in national parks, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), which secured documents about the shoot through a Freedom of Information Act request. “The visiting public was kept off of park facilities,” said Jeff Ruch, PEER’s executive director, and “park rules against commercial closures and drone access were ignored and the approval was immediate with no apparent internal debate.”

Word of the Subaru filming comes as the Park Service is developing plans to allow its employees to be more involved in securing private sector donations for the parks. A 2009 Government Accountability Office report warned of the risks of getting too cozy with corporate donors: “Partner exerts undue influence over Park Service priorities,” “Public confidence in the Park Service is compromised,” and “Parks and Park Service become commercialized.”

Notably, GAO cautioned against “corporate donations made to parks or partners and tied to advertising.”

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