Some are concerned that the proposed privatization of National Park Service operations would drive up costs for visitors and fail to raise enough for repairs
Americas national parks need a staggering $11.5bn worth of overdue road and infrastructure repairs. But with the proposed National Park Service budget slashed by almost $400m, the Trump administration says it will turn to privatizing public park services to address those deferred maintenance costs.
I dont want to be in the business of running campgrounds, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said at a meeting of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association in Washington this month. This came after Donald Trump proposed cutting the Department of the Interior budget by 13%.
But some public lands advocates are concerned that privatization would drive up costs for visitors and put the egalitarian nature of visiting a park out of reach for some.
The park service did consider privatizing more services during the 1980s and 1990s, says John Garder, director of budget and appropriations of the National Parks Conservation Association. He says what the agency discovered is that, for most part, you cant privatize services significantly without having to raise the cost of visitation.
If youve visited a national park, especially a busy one, such as Yosemite or Grand Canyon, there is a good chance youve patronized a private operator. Concessionaires operate a range of services including lodging, restaurants and transportation ferries to Alcatraz and Liberty islands, for example. All told, the NPS has issued private concession contracts at 100 places within the park system.
In recent years, disagreements over park contracts have led to costly lawsuits for the park service. A provision in the contract offered to concessionaires allows them to recoup their investments in NPS facilities at the end of a contract period. This provision can also make the bidding process for new contracts extremely messy.
Xanterra Parks and Resorts, owned by conservative billionaire Philip Anschutz, is one of the biggest concessionaires in the park system and has provided lodging and other services in the Grand Canyon since 1968. In that year, it acquired Fred Harvey Company, which had served the Grand Canyon since 1905. By the time its contract neared its end in 2015, the company said it had invested $200m in facilities upgrades, which any new bidder would need to pay off before turning a profit.