Public Backlash Grows Against Proposed Ads In National Parks

Image courtesy of afagen

Backlash is growing against a proposal by the National Park Service that would allow some corporate logos and signage within park boundaries, with the majority of folks who weighed in on the idea during a public commenting period saying they’re against it.

In May, NPS announced a proposed donor recognition program — known as Director’s Order #21 — that would allow individuals and companies to have their names displayed on things like programs, benches, and other interior spaces at parks as a way to raise funds.

At the time, the service said the program would be more about recognizing donors, and that corporations wouldn’t be allowed to rename parks like Yellowstone or features like Old Faithful. No logos or ad language would be allowed either. Still, critics noted that some of the new donor recognition methods could take away from the park-going experience: under the proposal, corporate logos and wraps would be allowed on vehicles that donors have funded, for example.

NPS’ public commenting period on the proposal ended in May, but did not post those comments for review, Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert program and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) pointed out today, so CCFC requested the comments under the Freedom of Information Act.

The group obtained 345 of those comments [PDF], and, after reviewing them, said 78% of commenters oppose the NPS policy.

“We have reviewed those comments, and they make clear that the public is already outraged about many of the existing forms of commercialism in America’s national parks, and strongly opposed to the proposed changes which would allow more commercialism in our national parks,” Public Citizen and CCFC wrote in a letter [PDF] demanding revisions to the NPS policy. “Eighty percent of the public comments filed oppose DO21. NPS should take these comments seriously and not move forward with the revision as it is currently written.

Under The Administrative Procedure Act, when the NPS issues a final rule “it must describe and respond to the public comments it receives,” CCFC says.

“It’s disappointing that the NPS did not post these comments for public review,” said Kristen Strader, campaign coordinator for Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert program. “But the public has spoken loudly and clearly against corporate sponsorships in our parks. We urge the National Park Service to hear their voices and abandon this plan, so the parks will forever be places to appreciate nature and American history, unspoiled by commercialism.”

The groups are also opposed to NPS’ plans to require park superintendents to engage in fundraising, as they say that could result in superintendents hired and rewarded on the basis of their fundraising abilities instead of their skills at managing parks and furthering the mission of NPS.

“Our national parks are America’s treasures, held in trust for future generations, and are not ‘brought to you by’ corporations,” said David Monahan, campaign manager of CCFC. “To teach children that an appreciation for our history, culture and natural resources is more important than materialism, the park experience must remain free of corporate logos and recognitions.”

Thus far, a petition led by CREDO Action, Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert, and CCFC has 215,000 signatures demanding that the NPS abandon plans to permit corporate sponsorships, naming rights, and branding in parks, the groups say.

NPS is expected to make a final ruling on the proposal by the end of the year.

“The National Park Service greatly values the deep interest Americans have in preserving and protecting their national parks,” a spokesperson told Consumerist via email. “We will carefully consider public feedback as we finalize updates to policies guiding the longstanding tradition of philanthropic support for national parks.”

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