Save Our Parks! How to Keep National Parks Open During a Government Shutdown

As part of the government shutdown that started October 1, the National Parks Service has closed all U.S. national parks and monuments. Would-be visitors will be denied entry to Yosemite and Yellowstone and acres and acres of national park lands until the government resumes business. Economics professor Holly Fretwell suggests an alternative that would have enabled parks to stay open despite the government shutdown.

She recommends leasing our national parks to entrepreneurs who would be responsible for managing the maintenance, campgrounds, trails, and infrastructure in the parks. The private management company would have to adhere to strict parameters, maintain low admission fees, and would pay the federal government for the right to lease the management of the parks. Under such a system, our national parks would generate income for the government instead of costing the government money to run. If this system were already in place, the parks could have stayed open during the shutdown.

You may feel skeptical about a private business’s ability to manage and maintain the beauty of our national parks, but private businesses currently manage thousands of public recreation areas and campgrounds and nearly half of all Forest Service campgrounds. Most campers who use these public lands don’t even realize they are managed by private companies. Private management for our national parks would make them accessible to visitors even during the government shutdown, and could make our parks revenue generators for the government.

16 Comments

  1. Matt Wavle

    I don’t understand why the federal government should own ANY land.  The states should sell it off at the best price that they can get, without any restrictions.  The new land owners will then have a reason to maintain and even increase the value of their land.  — also yearly property tax ought to be abolished, it’s like paying yearly rent on something that you already own.

  2. Daniel Pealer

    The sad thing is that during the so called "shut down" the government
    worked hard to shut down even privately owned and operated parks like
    Mount Vernon. They were successful at shutting down the privately
    managed government owned parks.

  3. Chocolate Thunder

    This reminds me of when I was at a hearing where members of the public would give testimony regarding whether federal lands in Idaho should be under state control instead. Many who were opposed to the idea said that Idaho couldn’t afford to manage the lands. This puzzled me for two reasons:

    1) It’s not like the federal government isn’t broke.
    2) Isn’t land a productive asset? It seems that only government management can turn something that should be making money into something that costs money.

  4. Andrei-Claudiu Roibu

    I never imagined that a public-private deal can be reached so that natural reservations and national parks can be saved, and even, made to be prosperous. I was proved wrong… Enjoy ! 

  5. spacepan

    I think she’s charismatic and engaging, but she could be making a stronger claim here. Don’t compromise with statist terrorism; we don’t need any amount of government involvement here.

  6. Anonymous

    Even though I think this is a better option than publicly owned and managed parks, the restrictions the government sets on the managers can have unseen and counterproductive effects. Assigning a lease to an entrepreneur is still giving someone the monopoly rights to the park, which ensures inefficiency. 

  7. Dabriel Graham

    But why not fully privatize them? Why should the government dictate how individuals use these lands?

  8. Paul Huffman

    I believe this is primarily because of how the natural wonders on the East Coast looked at the time we began the National Parks program. Niagara Falls is the prime example: it had been so overrun with people trying to make a buck off of it that it had become an eyesore. Even today, the Falls are only “pretty” to Americans because we see the Canadian side. From Canada’s vantage point, the Falls are still trashed. 

    When looking at the Grand Canyon for the first time, TR said “man can only mar it” and he was correct. Even Brigham Young supported the preservation of the “timber on the hills and the water in the streams” around the Grand Staircase. 

    All of that said, there are things the NPS does that are quite wrong: the obsession with stopping natural fires and not pursuing controlled burns creates great danger from wildfires for surrounding communities. 

    I would encourage you to read up on how Yosemite almost became fully trashed prior to Muir’s advocacy to protect it. 

    Also, check up on Thomas Paine’s “Agrarian Justice” — I believe maintaining the Parks for posterity is much more acceptable than enacting a ground rent payout.

    Of course, I’m a bit biased in all of this. The parks, I believe, are what make everything West of the Mississippi much more beautiful than the remainder of the country. Otherwise, the Rockies may very well have been blown to bits decades ago for a bit of coal, and the Colorado would glow at night from radioactive discharge from mining operations.

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