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Sunday, May 29, 2016

How much for naming rights at the Ninigret Wildlife Refuge?

National Parks Will Start Selling Naming Rights to Corporate Sponsors

Home Depot’s Yellowstone National Park. Merrill Lynch’s Yosemite National Park. Exxon Mobil’s Grand Canyon National Park. 

You’re probably shuddering at the thought of these national treasures being linked to corporate sponsors, but thanks to new federal rule changes, this possibility is closer than you think.

Since it was established, the National Park Service has thwarted attempts to commercialize these nature preserves. 

In the past, the parks have limited commemorations of large donations to modest, easy-to-overlook plaques. 

Now, during the park service’s centennial celebration, the organization is deciding to court corporate money by offering up a lot of opportunities for naming rights.

The government is hoping to avoid going too far by maintaining a ban on out-and-out advertisements or naming park roads after companies. 

What is allowed, though, seems not much better. Company names and logos can be conspicuously attached to:
  • Visitor centers
  • Benches
  • Lockers
  • Bricks
  • Educational guides
  • Park buses and trams
  • Youth programs

Heck, corporations can even design, construct and maintain their own buildings in a park.

Basically, there are all sorts of branding opportunities now available to corporations. Visitors trying to get away from the logos and commercialization that are core to city life may be disappointed at how much companies are permitted to encroach on these formerly sacred spaces.

In case you haven’t already guessed, the decision is motivated by a need for money. National parks currently have a list of $11 billion worth of maintenance projects that have been put on the back burner. 

Designs for new amenities that would hopefully attract younger visitors have had to be shelved for similar budgetary reasons.

Feel free to blame Congress for this approach. After ignoring multiple requests to increase funding to the National Park Service, lawmakers instead opted to loosen the rules for parks receiving private money. 

Funny, that seems more like a perk for the legislators’ corporate friends rather than the parks themselves!

Despite the need for money, park directors aren’t exactly relishing the rule changes. Now, they are expected to start reaching out to rich patrons to pay for their parks, even though fundraising isn’t typically their area of expertise. 

At this point, park heads are explicitly being told to schmooze and secure those newly available dollars.

The National Parks Conservation Association has expressed some concerns at the precedent this sets. 

“Does that become a major part of the job?” asks representative John Garden. “Can the Park Service say, ‘This person’s doing an awesome job at protecting bison, but they’re not raising enough money’?”

There are people who will tell you this step is necessary because it’s impossible to keep national parks afloat without getting this extra money. 

I’d contend that it’d be easy to fund parks if politicians actually required corporations to pay their fair share of taxes – then you’d have the money without all that obnoxious signage!

Make no mistake: Selling naming rights is a choice that the government is making… and a terrible one, at that.