Committee Recommends Privatization of Campgrounds at National Parks

 Committee Recommends Privatization of Campgrounds at National Parks

Privatized campgrounds, limits to benefits for senior visitors, and allowance of food trucks are being recommended as ways to potentially bring more money into the National Park Service.

The recommendations were made by the Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee that is designed to “advise the Secretary of the Interior on public-private partnerships across all public lands.”

The Sept. 24 memo prepared by the Subcommittee on Recreation Enhancement Through Reorganization highlights privatization and an increase in contracts with private companies as a way to offer services such as WiFi, food and equipment rentals to draw more visitors to parks.

In the memo, the subcommittee called park campgrounds “the victims” of park infrastructure problems as the U.S. park service faces a $12 billion maintenance backlog.

“There is also broad consensus that the current national park campground system, largely operated by federal employees, combines inadequate and outmoded visitor infrastructure,” the memo reads, saying campgrounds lack funds, have not kept up with demand and they fail “to meet expectations of the contemporary camping market.”

Chris Bornemann, senior manager of Government Affairs for the RV Industry Association, talked with the RV Lifestyle recently about the maintenance backlog and how it affects RVers.

“To really chip away at this backlog maintenance is extremely important to our industry especially because recent research shows that 98 percent of all RVers purchase their RVs to go camping at some point and this inadequate and outdated federal camp grounds, water systems and utilities really reduce visitation and enjoyment for RVers,” said Bornemann. “Deteriorating roads, bridges and camp grounds, it really negatively impacts the RV experience.”

The Hill reports that “privatization has been a growing trend among state parks that have struggled to cover operations through park fees alone, with many seeking to bring in new recreational opportunities to attract visitors, such as archery lessons or ropes courses.”

Bornemann said the RVIA supports such measures and claims that privatization already has benefited some properties. 

“Some of the National Park Service campgrounds are now reaching out and really embracing partnerships and concessionaire services to come on and have private industry come in and work with the National Park Service to run these campgrounds and invest some serious capital for a small return on investment and hoping to get a 20 year lease from the National Park Service, but in no way is the National Park Service selling off the lands or anything like that,” Bomermann said. “This is a strict agreement, a contract between these concessionaire partnerships and the National Park Service. There’s a lot of restrictions that are on the concessionaires too, so it’s not a free for all.

“They’re not putting a water slide in the Grand Canyon or anything like that,” he continued. “They’re just coming in and they’re running the parks efficiently, investing some money in updating that campground infrastructure amongst lodging, food service and some other amenities and facilities that you likely see in a lot of National Park Service lands.”

Still, The Hill notes that “privatizing campgrounds in national parks could be a polarizing idea, particularly since many view parks as a way to provide time in the outdoors to American’s of all stripes and don’t want to see some visitors priced out of visiting national treasures.”

Jayson O’Neill, deputy director of the Western Values Project, a conservation group, said in a release that “the move would hurt working Americans, [and] it would fill the pockets of Trump donors who stand to benefit from lucrative contracts.”

Seniors would be especially hit by the changes, if adopted.

That's because the memo argues that the 50 percent discount for seniors should apply only to base campsite fees and encourages NPS to introduce “new senior fee blackout periods during peak season periods.”

I'd love to know how you feel about this recommendations! Please share in the comments below. 


Mike Wendland

Mike Wendland is a veteran journalist who, with his wife, Jennifer, travels North America in a small motorhome, blogging about the people, places, joys and adventure of RV life on the road at He and Jennifer also host the weekly RV Podcast and do twice-weekly videos on the YouTube RV Lifestyle Channel. They have written 10 books on RV travel.


  • This is a trend I don’t agree with at all! Once privatization takes over, things begin to slide. Prices go up and quality goes down!

  • This will not bode well for seniors or the working public. Prices will go up and up. Even now it’s difficult for many seniors/working people to afford to visit our national parks. We’re losing sight of the purpose of our national park system. Instead why don’t we change the focus of our national budget and put more money in to support our parks – our valuable public resource!

  • We have been working our whole life and paying taxes. Now that we are about to retire we were looking forward to enjoying our National Parks and using the National campgrounds more with a 50% discount. Seniors typically require fewer resources than any other age group and most seniors don’t leave a mess. We are not against some restrained privatization…. but keep it affordable for everyone…. esp for peaceful, freedom lovin’ seniors!!

  • National park camping should be focused on appreciating the natural resources and basic camping. Creating a resort experience with additional attractions will detract from the core mission of these amazing parks.

  • […] Committee Recommends Privatization of Campgrounds at National Parks […]

  • Campgrounds should continue to be run by the government. Budgets have been cut dramatically over the years and funding should be restored to catch up on delayed maintenance. Privatization will increase fees, keeping more families from enjoying the experience of camping and diminishing the senior discount will cut into the pocketbooks of limited income seniors. Campgrounds need to be maintained but they should not be turned into anything more than Somme campgrounds – they are not the tourist attraction, the parks are.

  • I don’t understand how we can send so much money overseas but can’t find a way to support the national parks without privatization. Doesn’t make sense to me.we need to keep these national treasures under government control. No company is going to have the public’s best interest in mind.they will do whatever is necessary for them to maximize their investment.

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