Public vs. Private: Zinke Proposes Privatizing National Park Campsites

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Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is proposing outsourcing park functions to private companies. The intention is to address the $11 billion backlog of deferred maintenance projects within the National Park Service. Many fear that even more privatization within parks would significantly increase campsite prices and deter tourists. While many private companies already own and maintain campgrounds throughout the U.S. park system, if widespread privatization were to happen, recreation and camping outings could fall victim to a mean price tag. The majority of camping on public, federally owned land costs under $15 a day and most camping on U.S. Forest Service property is free.

The future of the campsites and their prices in our national parks is up in the air as it is being debated whether the actual land the campsites are on would be privately owned or if just the services and maintenance required would be outsourced like trash removal and bathroom cleaning.

A pay station at the Juniper Family Campground in the Bandelier National Monument.
Photo by Clyde Mueller

Supporters of privatizing camping believe it would save taxpayer dollars while improving upon the maintenance issues that have gone unchecked due to a lack of funding. Environmentalists believe it would increase costs, making outdoor vacations and adventure less attainable and desirable. With growing concerns of more private ownership rather than federal ownership, some are even concerned that oil and gas drilling could be happening on the doorsteps of more of our national parks. Already, some national park units are being opened to oil and gas drilling.

The U.S. Interior Department budget for 2018 calls for a 10.9 percent cut in funding, including decreasing funding to park maintenance by 15 percent and cutting funding for national parks by 23 percent. This proposal has drawn criticism in Congress from members of both parties.

 

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