No, Yosemite is not going to be "Sponsored by Starbucks"

There's been a lot of misinformation circulating about corporate donations and influence in National Parks. Let's look at the facts.

By: Kyle Frost + Save to a List

Director's Order 21 outlines changes to National Park Service policy surrounding donations and recognition of donations. Specifically, the areas that have caused the most consternation are the changes allowing park superintendents to solicit donations, and allowing for recognition of donors.

Now, this got picked up by news outlets with headlines like "Yosemite, brought to you by Starbucks", which is a completely off-base framing of the issue. Leading with a title like that (besides being clickbait and completely false, nice job WaPo) automatically sends folks into a frenzy regarding their oh so pristine love for national parks.

I read the full DO 21. And here's what it says, pertaining to the parts people are most worried about, corporate influence, naming rights, and branding in our national parks.

  • Corporate donors go through a rigorous vetting process to makes sure that their values align with the national park. Certain recognition is offered to donors of a certain size. They often do not want recognition anyways, so as not to be associated with the negative conversation happening now.
  • Under no circumstances are building/facility/park naming rights up for sale. Period. This is a really frustrating one, because it's what people get the most upset about.
  • Specific interior rooms like galleries or meeting rooms can be temporarily renamed for a 5-year period if the donor specifically assisted with renovation or construction of that building. 
  • Logos will not be allowed on any permanent structures. No benches, no buildings, no walls, no donor badges on paving stones. **EDIT: After further review, the DO 21 prohibits the use of logos on paving stones and park furnishings, but will allow names of donors in a standardized format** They will be allowed to have a short credit on temporary printed materials, things like the 'Find Your Park' banners, and interpretive signage. Think museum like recognition: more "This exhibit was made possible by the generosity of John Smith" than "The Safeway Yosemite Village Store". Vehicles will be allowed to have a donor name or logo, but no advertising slogan. The 'no advertising slogan' applies to all parts of this initiative.
  • There is no product placement, branded or otherwise.  

One of the key arguments against the new initiative hinges on a "slippery slope" argument. Basically, we're opening the door to massive corporate influence and greed in our National Parks that will continue to grow unchecked until corporations are calling the shots. I get it. Corporations = bad. But what this fails to take into account is the men and women who have dedicated their lives to protecting and maintaining the parks by working for the NPS. I choose to believe that these people, who care more about the parks than you or I do, have the parks best interests in mind. It's true that money is often a corrupting influence, but I'd prefer to give these folks the benefit of the doubt for now.

Another valid concern is that opening up the parks to more private/corporate donations will result in less funding from the government and a larger portion of the NPS overall budget relying on private donations. This is certainly possible. About 9% of their budget currently comes from private donations, and Congress has made it their mission to continually underfund our National Parks. At the end of the day, that's on us, the taxpayer and voter. You want Congress to fully fund and protect our public lands? Vote for people dedicated to doing that. Sorry, if you voted GOP or didn't vote for your local representatives, this isn't a valid argument for you. Just the truth.

At the end of the day, anything involving our National Parks tends to become a hot-button issue, misinformation or not. It's great to see the passion that arises with these issues, but too often it's misinformed or remains at the level of Facebook likes and shares. If you really care about our public lands, get involved with organizations like the Public Lands AllianceThe National Park Foundation, and other conservation-minded groups. And most importantly, use your vote to put people in office that share these same values.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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