Breaking News: Controversial “parks” committee shut down

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By Russ and Tiña De Maris

When the Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee, the brainchild of former Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, recently brought forward a series of recommendations on “modernizing” National Park campgrounds, it caused quite a stir. Perhaps the expression “In with a bang, out with a whimper” could be raised now. The committee, as of November 1, is no more.

2017: Ryan Zinke announces creation of advisory committee. Dept. of Interior photo.

Park Service officials didn’t make a lot of fanfare about it. In fact, the demise of the committee was not made public until last Tuesday, and only after National Parks Traveler, an “editorially independent, nonprofit media organization dedicated to covering national parks and protected areas,” as it describes itself, ran an editorial critical of the committee’s efforts at “modernization.”

After the editorial hit the internet, the Park Service quietly informed the organization, “‘The Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee was terminated on Friday, November 1. The ORAC was created by Secretary Zinke in 2017, and like any Federal Advisory Act group, was simply an advisory body to the Department of the Interior and the Secretary of the Interior,’ read a prepared statement from David Vela, the de factor director of the Park Service.”

So what will happen to the suggestions that private industry have a greater hand in the management of America’s natural treasures? What about those food carts to serve hot meals to Millennials in park campgrounds? Enhanced WiFi? A chicken in every pot? Said the statement to National Parks Traveler, “No action has been taken on the committee’s recommendations nor will any action be taken in the future unless and until the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service determine the recommendations will improve the visitor experience, protect national park resources, and are determined to be prudent investments,” Vela added. “With growing interest in expanding and supporting public recreational access, the NPS is working to create a second century campground experience that supports sound investment and management for campgrounds that may be enjoyed by all. To this end, we are coordinating a campground modernization and rehabilitation strategy.”

So why, like a questionable circus, did the Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee quietly fold up the tents and slip out of town? With the press of other top-level national news breaking out at First Street Southeast in Washington D.C., we may never know.

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David Plummer
11 months ago

Generally speaking, private enterprise can operate more efficiently that government. However, and in my opinion, the overwhelming advantage of government control of state and national parks, including campgrounds, is that it is easier for government to maintain the objective of creating the parks in the first place, which is to preserve the natural setting, ecology and beauty of unspoiled terrain. Privatization has no conscience in these areas and financial performance will trump the protections necessary to preserve the land for future generations.

Carson Axtell
11 months ago

Only when the American public decides that places like Niagara Falls and crowded private campgrounds are their ideal of what a national park should be like will such privatization study groups gain any legitimacy…

Dan
11 months ago

I hope the council demise removes one more of the current administrations threats and assaults on public land.

There are still more battles to fight, Pebble mine in Bristol Bay; mining in the Boundary Waters; road building and logging Tongass forest, an old growth forest, etc.

Sharon B
11 months ago

Keep this ignorant group of people, Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee, the hell out of the National Parks. They know nothing about the outdoors, wildlife or anything else about the outdoor world. All they know is pavement and concrete.

Ronl
11 months ago

Any committee worth their salt will look at the charge given and recommendations made and act accordingly. Sounds to me like this group was very conscientious and performed their job admirably. And since it was an ad hoc committee, they disbanded once the conclusion not to proceed and to disband was made.

Linda Carle
11 months ago

National Parks are very important to me and I would oppose any attempts to privatize the parks. The initial intent of creating areas for the use and enjoyment for ALL is a way for all Americans to take pride in the resources of and in our country as a whole. These parks are models of environmentalism. sustainability and a way to promote and protect natural ecological systems. As a child, visiting National and State Parks, were places where our family of six was able to afford to experience visits to beautiful places and have adventures, These adventures were exciting and restorative to all of us at our varying ages. Now, in retirement, my husband and I volunteer at National Parks as camp hosts, sharing our enthusiasm while continuing to enjoy the wonderful environment they provide.

Linda Carle
Loxahatchee, Florida

Tim Bear
11 months ago

Privatization of our PUBLIC lands is a horrible idea, and an idea one certainly would expect from this administration. They would like to figure out a way to remove these park lands from preservation status but know they (probably) couldn’t get away with it – although they DID do that with 80% of Bears Ears and Escalante Staircase, so who knows?

Zoom
11 months ago
Reply to  Tim Bear

This is not a political issue. Our elected representatives in Congress could pass a law to fully fund them anytime that would make the National Parks a mandatory expense in the Federal Budget. Instead it falls under discretionary spending within the Interior Department. This is why the parks are not properly funded. Bottom line is to encourage Congress to take action. The executive office submits a budget to Congress for approval. If Congress doesn’t act the previous year budget is the default and even if cost go up line items are cut to every department. But if Congress passes a law to fund the parks and makes it a mandatory expense then the budgets do not get cut or may be increased. This is why our Federal Government looks to privatize some functions. It is all about budget dollars and what programs must be cut to fund the operation of our Government.

Robbie
11 months ago

Privatizing our state and national parks and campgrounds has done nothing but increased the prices we pay with very minimal improvements if any.

JBC
11 months ago

Charles has said it well.
Bringing back programs similar to CCC and WPA makes sense. Just bring them into the 21st century. Most important provide solid funding and leadership, goals/objectives, guidance and most important – public input to shape the goals and objectives.
That said, please recognize that National and State parks, campgrounds, etc. are not Disneyland. Why do people think they should be constantly ‘entertained’? The whole goal is to preserve the environment and provide as natural an opportunity to be close to nature and all it has to offer. Everyone must accept – keeping things ‘simple’ does require some amenities – electric, water, sewer, WiFi, etc. All this requires staff, constant/proper maintenance and upkeep. Things have changed and ‘simple’ changes/upgrades are now part of the ‘simple’ experience. ‘Primitive’ campgrounds/area should also be included in the program and they too require maintenance, etc.
Bottom line – simple costs money and we have to accept that we are going to pay higher campground fees. Perhaps fees could be offset by gov’t funds provided from elsewhere, but that’s another subject. My biggest frustration regarding the raising of fees – I want to see a return on my dollar – effective staffing, better/ongoing maintenance, improved infrastructure, ongoing oversight, etc. Asking for more money and expecting us to put up with outdated/rundown facilities is not acceptable.
There are plenty of commercial campgrounds that can provide the ‘Disney’ experience and can choose to provide the full ‘entertainment’ experience for those campers who want swimming pools, water slides, horseback riding, craft programs, etc.

DPHooper
11 months ago

already said, perfect idea …
“It would controversial to propose bringing back some form of WPA (Works Progress Administration) or CCC (Civilian Conservation Corp). But from my point of view paying a decent wage to people who want or need work could improve our public lands makes more sense than letting them fall into complete and utter disrepair. Another spin off would be those who work in a new version of WPA or CCC would learn valuable skills.”

Donald Wall
11 months ago

The management of the Laurel River Lake in southern Kentucky has already turned the management of the parks over to a commercial company. There are two boat-in campsites on the lake and the one night rates have more than doubled, the sites are not well maintained, and no one uses them. In addition, on the “double sites” (with two tent sites), they commercial management does not recognize the Senior Pass sold by the Daniel Boone National Forest. The same will happen if the other camp grounds are turned over to commercial management.

Dave
11 months ago

This committee was just the first step in the effort to privatize the national parks. The National Parks are perhaps the only real “jewel” in this country. Every time I have been to a park I have been impressed with the operation and the dedication of the park service staff. Of course if something is running well there are certain politicians who think (wrongly) that it could be better if it were run by private business.

Marc LeBlanc
11 months ago

The NPS need look no further than our neighbor to the north. Canada has national park campgrounds with large sites, showers and excellent service, all run by the park service. We do not want a KOA experience in our national parks. If you must have those perks, stay in private parks.

Frank
11 months ago

Raise additional revenue to support the NPS with a SURCHARGE on ANY non-US citizen visiting a park. They don’t pay taxes to support our NPS, so get the money from them with a BIG surcharge on park admission, camping fees, etc.

Eric
11 months ago
Reply to  Frank

True, they don’t “directly” pay into taxes, but they spend – and quite often spend heavily in the local economies and tourism. So they do help support indirectly. Also, to my observation, they typically very in “good” campers and nature stewards too! When I travel abroad, (7 countries this year) I have not seen surcharges on foreign campers (me) other than the normal exchange rates and tourist traps – which we have for foreign travelers to the U.S. too.

Jeff
11 months ago
Reply to  Frank

I have been saying this for years. Instead of raising fees for residents add a surcharge for non-US citizens.

Charles
11 months ago

The committee failed? Go figure. How that committee was ever to succeed was a mystery to me.

First, funding for all of these endeavors was and is not there. Second, the NPS cannot even keep up with repairs on crumbling infrastructure. Corp Of Engineers Parks are even in worse condition.

Volunteerism seems to be the only answer but who pays the bill for materials to do repairs. Who pays for improvements? Raising gate fee’s or day use fee’s is not the total answer. Yet, that is what we are seeing in most of the more popular NPS parks. What’s happening to that money? Only the biggest and most popular NPS Parks seen to be benefiting.

It would controversial to propose bringing back some form of WPA (Works Progress Administration) or CCC (Civilian Conservation Corp). But from my point of view paying a decent wage to people who want or need work could improve our public lands makes more sense than letting them fall into complete and utter disrepair. Another spin off would be those who work in a new version of WPA or CCC would learn valuable skills.

Yep, another thing that won’t happen.

Kate
11 months ago
Reply to  Charles

I’ve talked with a lot of people about this same subject. I think another program similar to the CCC would be a really smart investment. Many of the campgrounds in our area (southern Missouiri northern Arkansas) still have beautiful dams, bridges, cabins etc. built by the CCC. My dad was in the CCC as a young man and said it was a life changing experience for him.

Dennis
11 months ago
Reply to  Charles

No need to raise ANY money for the parks, refuges or other public lands maintenance because it’s already there, just not being used. The Land and Water Conservation Fund was allocated many years ago, funded by off-shore oil leases, to specifically give the agencies more than enough money to run them in fine style. But Congress has never given all of it to this end. Most of the funds are “redirected” to the general treasury to be used for projects that never have anything to do with parks, (read “PORK”). Encourage your congressional representative to release the LWCF moneys for the purpose for which it was really allocated.