BY: M. TOMOSKI
This August, the National Parks Service (NPS) will be celebrating its 100th anniversary. With over 400 parks, monuments, and conservation areas across the United States, the NPS is responsible for some of the country’s most popular tourist destinations and historical sites, which contain enough natural beauty to make us wonder why we bother with civilization at all. After preserving America’s greatest source of national pride for a century, the NPS is running out of money, and as its big day approaches, the solution to its financial woes is promising to spoil the view.
The lack of funds comes from years of the federal government’s cuts to the budget, which Craig Obey, NPS Senior Vice President for Government Affairs, says is putting the sites at risk of falling into disrepair.
“Today’s numbers show the result of Congress’s chronic underfunding of our national parks,” he said in a statement to the government. “Unless Congress takes immediate and substantive action, the products of America’s best idea will only continue to fall apart,” he added.
According to the National Parks Conservation Association, in the past five years, NPS’s construction budget has been slashed 62 percent, leaving an $11.49 billion deficit for its roads, trails and visitors’ centers.
As the government slowly avoids its national parks, the NPS looks to its private donors to save them. Private donations received by the National Park Foundation currently make up 9% of the budget, but with parks so severely underfunded, it looks like private donors will begin to play a bigger and more visible role.
But before we all lose our minds at the thought of Glacier National Park becoming the next Times Square, NPS officials have promised that it’s not all as bad as it sounds.
“Donor recognition cannot state or imply naming rights to any park in the National Park system or any National Park Service facility, historic structure, or feature,” NPS assistant director for partnerships and civic engagement, Jeff Reinbold, told Fortune.
Under the new regulations, corporate donors cannot be recognized as an official sponsor and will not be given the naming rights to any park monuments or buildings, so it’s unlikely that you might one day see the Coke logo across Washington’s forehead on Mount Rushmore, but according to the guidelines put out by NPS: “the temporary [5 years] naming of rooms and interior spaces in NPS facilities is permitted to recognize donations for the renovation of an existing facility or construction of a new facility.”
Additionally, donor recognition will also extend to officially sponsored events, logos printed on brochures, newsletters, posters, cards, banners, portable exhibits, audio tours, NPS vehicles, signs within visitor centers and other facilities, on paving stones, pathways, landscaped areas, and even bear-proof food lockers.
“The great thing about the policy is it protects those features of the park that are important to all of us,” Reinbold told the Washington Post.
But many Americans who enjoy the undisturbed beauty of national parks every day would rather keep the corporate donors out of sight. An online petition which has already gathered over 22,000 supporters says, “Parks are a rare sacred space in modern society that are free from corporate influence, and should stay that way.”
Along with the new private donor initiative, the National Parks Service has also launched a fundraising campaign for its 100-year anniversary.