Roosevelt Arch at Yellowstone’s North Entrance. Photo courtesy of Claire Kittle Dixon.
As part of the George Wright Forum‘s National Park Centennial Essay Series, Holly Fretwell offers a serious strategy to add value to the NPS brand and protect new areas without spreading the NPS budget any thinner:
As the National Park Service (NPS) nears its centennial, it is time to find better ways to protect and conserve the national park units for future generations. To properly honor our parks in their hundredth year, any celebration should include reform. Decades of neglect have left the national parks crumbling in disrepair. Rundown infrastructure; encroaching non-native invasive species; unarchived artifacts; poor air quality; dilapidated roads, trails, and public transportation; and overcrowding plague units in the system. While the agency struggles to make ends meet, the size of the agency, the acreage under its control, and number of units it manages continue to grow. Instead of continually adding more acreage for the agency to steward, what if NPS offered a franchise for entrepreneurs to run new park sites that were deemed of national significance? The land and structures would remain in private hands but be given “national park” stature.
Franchising opportunities would allow individuals advocating for a new park area to drive the management of that park. Rather than hand newly protected areas to a struggling federal agency, conservationists could take responsibility to ensure its protection. A close look at America’s federal land agencies reveals that they don’t have the budgets, flexibility, or even—at times—the proper incentives to be the great resource stewards we would like.
A National Park Service franchise provides a new method to motivate increased protection for additional park areas by those who care most about the resources. With the centennial spotlight on “America’s best idea,” we have a unique opportunity to demonstrate better ways to ensure America’s national parks are worthy for the next 100 years.