National Park Service turns a deaf ear to public, approves commercialism in parks

By: David Monahan, CCFC Campaign Manager

The National Park Service (NPS) has ignored the hue and cry from the public and finalized Director’s Order 21, a policy which permits greater corporate presence and influence in our national parks.

This is how the public spoke out:

  • Over 215,000 people signed a petition hosted by CCFC, Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert program, and CREDO Action Alert asking the NPS to abandon plans to permit corporate sponsorships, naming rights, and branding in our parks;
  • 78% of 345 public comments filed with the agency opposed the Order and asked the NPS to keep our parks as a refuge from corporate marketing; and
  • A coalition of 66 health groups asked the NPS to abandon plans to permit partnerships with alcohol sellers and recognition of their products in parks.

Shouldn’t a federal agency entrusted to serve the public, and required to solicit, consider, and respond to public comments on proposed rules, be more responsive to public opinion? The NPS had said they would be. When CCFC announced that we had obtained and reviewed public comments and found them overwhelmingly opposed to the policy, an NPS spokesperson told the Consumerist that “the National Park Service greatly values the deep interest Americans have in preserving and protecting their national parks,” and said the agency would “carefully consider public feedback” before finalizing the policy.

But on a quiet week over the holidays, the NPS announced that the Director’s Order was approved. They did respond to our opposition with one important revision: they removed a provision that would have allowed corporate logos to be displayed on park “exhibits and waysides.” But the new policy permits naming rights to rooms and galleries within park facilities; allows corporate branding on park benches, bricks, furnishings, and park service vehicles; and lifts the ban on partnerships with alcohol sellers. 

The NPS seemed determined to push through these changes allowing increased corporate presence in parks. They first failed to post the public comments in response to the policy proposal, and when CCFC requested copies of the comments, they dragged their feet for months in providing them. When CCFC and Commercial Alert met with the NPS in August 2016 to convey the concerns of our members, NPS administrators told us that half of the comments filed — which at that point we had not seen — were in favor of the proposed changes. Those who were against the proposal, administrators said, didn’t seem to understand it. But when CCFC finally obtained the documents in September, we found that commenters both understood and were overwhelmingly opposed to the proposed changes. The NPS press release announcing the final policy on December 28, 2016, fails to mention that 78% of comments were opposed, and continues to spin the myth that the public was misinformed.

This is not the result we hoped for, but we so appreciate all of you who took action to fight for this important cause. Jack Drury of New York, N.Y. said it well in this comment to the petition: “Our parks are a refuge from the constant barrage of media, advertising, and overstimulation we deal with every day. To extend these influences into our parks and landmarks doesn’t just miss the point, it goes against their very purpose and shows a lack of respect and consideration for all of your visitors. Please keep our parks and landmarks as the places of refuge and relaxation that they are meant to be!”

Sadly, the NPS has ignored the will of the public and opened the door to corporate recognition and influence in our parks. But CCFC will continue to fight to make sure that the stewards of our parks protect their special nature and preserve them as a refuge from the marketing noise we face everywhere else. We know we can count on all of you to join us in this effort.