Privatization Of U.S. National Parks: What Could Change?

One of the greatest achievements of the U.S. Government for many has been the creation of the National Parks network of public land. In mid-2019, these parks were the subject of a large amount of work from within the Trump Administration. 

The idea of privatizing U.S. National Parks is a hot topic. It is safe to say that the reaction to the plan has been mixed, despite its continuing to be focused on by The White House. The question is, “how will the privatization of the National Parks network change how Americans interact with nature?”

What form will any privatization take?

Giant Redwoods National Park California. U.SSource: Shutterstock
Source: Shutterstock

This is the big question facing the public when we look to learn about the privatization of public lands. What form will this shift to private companies take? 

The U.S. Government has several options to address the issue of privatizing National Parks. One option is the leasing of vast areas of parkland to private organizations without the federal or any state bodies overseeing it.

The option of privatizing a large parkland without taking into account the actions of private enterprise has already been taking in some areas with mixed results. The sale of Lake Texoma State Park in Oklahoma is often held up as a sign of how privatization can go wrong. The State Park was once a thriving tourist attraction that fell on hard times during the 2008 economic crash leading to its sale with the promise of a regenerated lake resort that maintained public access. Instead, an NPR report called the former state park a ghost town.

California has shown privatization can work

Grand Tetons National Park, Wyoming, U.S.ASource: Shutterstock
Source: Shutterstock

One of the most impressive plans for the privatization of U.S. National Parks has been trialed in California. The state parks have seen specific areas privatized and left under private control. 

Unlike the problems seen in Oklahoma, California maintained control of its state parks and ensured the campgrounds and concessions under private control aren’t being taken advantage of by anyone.

Californian officials have stated their parks are being kept in excellent condition with some aspects of the state parkland being run for profit. 

According to them, the best way to keep its more than 200 state parks open is to allow private companies to have rental and retail operations. Without the use of private groups to operate aspects of the state parks it is doubtful California would be able to keep its parks open.

Increasing services

Grand Tetons National Park, Wyoming, U.S.ASource: Shutterstock
Source: Shutterstock

One of the areas that have been an issue for many who use the National Parks regularly is the planned increase in services. A plan has already been floated that would raise the cost of entering national parks. Many disliked the idea as it would affect low-income families.

Plans for the privatization of U.S. National Parks include:

  • The introduction of wifi thorughout parks
  • Food trucks and other concessions
  • Allowing Amazon deliveries on parkland

Many have become concerned these changes could impact the parks and the Parks Service image. On the other hand, some believe an update to available services is long overdue.

Tackling the maintenance backlog

The maintenance backlog that has been a problem for decades for the National Parks Service continues to rise. Some believe about $12 billion is needed to address all essential upgrades and repairs. 

Private organizations would allow the Federal Government to make money from privatization to return to the National Parks system. California receives between 15% and 20% of all revenues earned from private companies in its parks, making around $20 million annually. About $120 to $140 million came from private enterprise.

There are many arguments for and against the use of privatization. However, for many, the most important thing is to protect access for people from all income levels. 

Private funding can have a positive impact on the level of maintenance and available financing. But over-commercialization is one of the main concerns of many public leaders and activists. 

Charging higher entrance fees or raising rental prices could change the entire face of the National Parks system. That is, if government agencies don’t regulate the planned privatization.


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