May 2nd, 2006

Park Service Keeps Ban on Most Ads

By John Heilprin
Associated Press

Strict prohibitions on allowing advertising and marketing in the national parks in return for donations will remain, spelling an end to a Park Service proposal that called for looser restrictions.

The Park Service proposed last year letting some employees solicit donations, accepting alcohol and tobacco company donations for the first time and giving donors the right to put their names on rooms, benches and bricks. All were dropped in new guidelines issued Monday by Park Service Director Fran Mainella.

About $100 million in donations and $150 million in entrance fees augment the taxpayer funds that support the National Park System. The 390-unit system has an annual budget of about $2.2 billion.

Deciding what donations park managers can accept - and the level of recognition that can be granted in return - has been a touchy subject for the Park Service.

Park rangers and other employees, advocacy groups and environmentalists complained that last year’s proposal went too far by opening the door to an unseemly amount of commercialization.

“Some level of donor recognition, if tastefully done, is a good idea,” Deputy Park Service Director Steve Martin said Monday. “Too much of it, and it can go downhill really fast.”

The guidelines were last set in 1998 and are supposed to be reviewed every five years. Park advocates praised the new guidelines as responding to criticism of last year’s proposal.

“It does address the concerns raised during the public comment period,” said Tom Kiernan, president of the National Parks Conservation Association. “We give the Park Service significant credit for releasing a strong guidance on the appropriate role of philanthropy.”

Much of the private support for national parks is contributed through the National Park Foundation, chartered by Congress in 1967. Companies such as American Airlines Inc., Discovery Communications Inc., Eastman Kodak Company, Ford Motor Company and Time magazine have each donated $5 million or more.

The money pays for an “margin of excellence” in the parks - programs that go beyond simply basic requirements for conservation and education programs or visitor services, said John Piltzecker, the Park Service’s “Partnership Program” manager.

“It’s a lot like the Olympics. You’d be surprised how many companies want to be good stewards of the national parks,” Piltzecker said.

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