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Should Corporations Bankroll National Parks?

2012 March 5

By Kate Sheppard, motherjones.com -I love national parks—from the regal slopes of Yellowstone to the mind-bending vastness of the Grand Canyon. Like everyone else, I go to parks to get away from the bells and whistles of everyday life. So I can completely understand why a lot of people are creeped out by the mere prospect of private companies playing a role in the National Park Service.

And yet, our parks are strapped for cash. A few bucks from a big business could go a long way toward better trails, nicer facilities, and more ranger programs. So should companies fund the parks, or are these natural spaces best left free of corporate interference? The question has been debated over the years, with flare-ups around the time the Bush administration attempted to privatize parts of the park service back in 2003 and last fall when there was concern that Coca-Cola had interfered in a plan to stop selling disposable plastic water bottles in the parks.

The bottled water affair began in 2010 when officials at Grand Canyon National Park announced that it would prohibit vendors from selling water in the park; instead, it would offer stations for reusable bottles. The move, they explained, would cut waste in the park significantly. But Coca-Cola complained about the move to the National Park Foundation (the nonprofit that channels support from companies and donors to parks). In short order, the head of the Park Service intervened to block the ban. Since Coca-Cola has donated $4 million to the foundation for things like trail maintenance and tourism promotions, some people suspected that the company may have asserted undue influence over the bottle issue.

David Barna, chief spokesman for the National Park Service, insists that wasn’t so—NPS just needed more time to consider the impact of the ban. The agency announced just a few weeks ago that it is going forward with the bottle ban in Grand Canyon after all.
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