US National Parks Could Become Privatized as Result of Coronavirus Pandemic

The disruptions caused by coronavirus have been far-reaching, and even as states slowly begin the process of getting back to normal, more consequences are likely to surface. One such potential issue is the issue of privatizing national parks, according to National Geographic. While it's been an ongoing concern for decades, it has resurfaced once again as the National Parks Service is currently looking at close to a $12 billion maintenance backlog after having been closed for weeks to help slow the spread of coronavirus.

Warren Meyer, the owner of RRM, a company that privately operates about 150 recreation areas on public lands, believes that some aspects of privatization can help the NPS better maintain the parks themselves by lightening some of the workload. "Does [NPS] really have to operate the lodge?" Meyer asks. "Does it have to operate the campground? Does it need to clean the bathrooms? Does it need to pave the roads? There's a lot of things in there that it doesn't necessarily need to do."

Part of the controversy behind the issue stems from the fact that there isn't just one template for privatization, which has managed to see both success and failures in other parks around the country, to varying degrees. Emily Douce, director of operations and park funding at the National Parks Conservation Association, argues that privatizing the campgrounds would hinder actual park officials from doing their jobs effectively.

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"The presence of a park service ranger has many benefits, from educating to seeing what's going on and making sure that people are being responsible," Douce says, adding that the privatization of ranger positions would be a cause for concern. "Their mandate is to make sure that the resources are protected and that the visitors are educated about that site. And so if you privatize those, there's a concern there that some of that would be lost."

Nothing is certain at this point, and much will depend on what the NPS budget will be next year, as well as how it is able to adjust when they're no longer limited to virtual tours. Douce added that the NPCA is "working with many others to try to influence the stimulus packages to see if we can get the money back to the parks that has been lost and will be lost." She also adds that she doesn't believe the government should be involved in such decisions amid a global pandemic. "We need people to be involved," and at the moment, "they're focused on just dealing with everyday changes with the virus."