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research shows that 98 percent of all RVers purchase their RVs to go camping at some point and this inadequate and outdated federal camp grounds, water systems and utilities really reduce visitation and enjoyment for RVers,” said Bornemann.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.”
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