A point of American pride, our national park system, is sadly underfunded and lost. The Seattle Times shares one piece of the story, corporate sponsorship.
The corporatization process started with “co-branding” agreements, rationalized by Park Service officials as “aligning the economic and historical legacies” of parks with advertisers. In other words, they’re selling the Park Service’s proud public brand — as well as its soul.
First in line was Coca-Cola. In 2007, the multibillion-dollar colossus became a “proud partner” with the Park Service by donating a mere $2.5 million (tax-deductible, meaning we taxpayers subsidized the deal) to the Park Service fundraising arm. In return, not only did Coke get exclusive rights to use park logos in its ads, but it was allowed to veto a Park Service plan to ban sales of bottled water in the Grand Canyon National Park. Disposable plastic bottles are that park’s biggest source of trash, but Coke owns Dasani, the top-selling water, so bye-bye ban. Public outrage forced officials to reverse this crass move, but the Park Service’s integrity has yet to recover.
I am fortunate to live in one of the few private residences surrounded by the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. It is an amazing opportunity, and fraught with frustration, as the Park Service struggles to find its way. With government funding disappearing the Park Service is more and more steered by the desires of its largest donors. Long term health of the parks is less a concern than immediate revenue demands.
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