You’ll likely never see a sign in Yellowstone National Park proclaiming “Old Faithful geyser brought to you by the makers of Viagra.”
But you may soon find plaques and banners there and in other U.S. national parks to recognize corporate contributions to what long have been called the country’s “crown jewels.”
According to a National Park Service proposal, the overseer of the system that includes Rocky Mountain, Everglades, Great Smoky Mountains and 55 other national parks wants to tangibly credit companies that donate money or other support to the parks.
To do so, commemorative plaques, markers or other signs bearing the names or logos of the companies would be displayed. In some cases, particular parts of park facilities would even be named after the commercial sponsors.
“We are looking to find ways to appropriately recognize the time and dollars contributed” by companies, said Al Nash, a National Park Service spokesman.
In mid-October, the service unveiled a proposed change in its regulations to allow such displays. The public has until Dec. 5 to comment on the proposal.
Already, there has been a swell of negative reaction from parkland watchdogs who see the proposal as yet another milestone in what wilderness-advocate Scott Silver decries as the “corporate takeover of nature.”
Silver, executive director of Wild Wilderness in Bend, Ore., said the proposal “totally flouts the law” that keeps the parks safe from commercialization.
Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, agreed. “What will be allowed stops just short of licensing ads for ‘The Official Beer of Yosemite,’ ” he said. “Influence peddling will soon become a major recreational activity in our national parks.”
At a Nov. 1 Senate hearing, bipartisan concern was raised over the plan by Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M.
“I always thought of national parks as a commercial-free zone,” said Bingaman, minority leader of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Parks Service spokesman Nash said no one should expect “big corporate signs” strung around the parks. Instead, he said, the recognition would take the form of “appropriate” brass nameplates, donor walls with contributors identified on them, and unobtrusive banners.
Nash said the plan to recognize private-sector donations stems not only from the desire to give credit where it’s due, but also to encourage continued support from current contributors and to get other firms to follow suit.
Such contributions help ease park-funding shortfalls, which the National Parks Conservation Association pegs at about $600 million.
(Contact Lisa Hoffman at HoffmanL(at)shns.com)