The Trump administration is moving forward with an ambitious plan to give private businesses greater access to national parks, according to a memorandum written by an advisory council for the Department of the Interior. Some price increases are also in the works for park visitors.
Drafters of the plan say it amounts to little more than a much-needed modernization of aging infrastructure, and that the goal is to make national parks accessible to a younger, more diverse audience. Critics, on the other hand, see corporate influence at work.
There are 419 national parks in the United States, from the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to the Gates of the Arctic in Alaska. All are overseen by the National Park Service, which is part of the Interior Department. That bureau is headed by David Bernhardt, a former Republican operative and corporate lobbyist who has made no secret of his desire to increase the presence of private enterprise in national parks.
Private businesses — including concessionaires and tour guides — already operate in many national parks, but Bernhardt and a number of his deputies have argued that the parks have $12 billion in deferred maintenance, and that such funds are much more easily found from outside the federal government than within.
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