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.
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.