National Parks To Sell Naming Rights, How Long Before ‘Capital One Presents Yellowstone’?

America’s national parks will now sell naming rights to corporate donors. Does that mean that “Arches National Park Presented By McDonald’s” is on the way?

Not necessarily. But the new rules will allow corporations and businesses to buy certain elements within national parks and display their names more-or-less prominently on them, as the struggling National Park Service explores news ways to generate some much-needed revenue.

As the Washington Post explains, the national parks have a problem: their funding is set by the federal government, and in these tight economic times, federal money hasn’t exactly kept up with costs. That means the parks themselves must come up with some revenue in other ways, such as visitors’ fees or private donors. However, the parks can only raise so much money through private donors, and visitor fees are unpopular with tourists, and if they get too high, visitors will stop coming.

And the National Park Service has about $11 billion worth of maintenance projects to do, and no money to do them.

National park naming rights Half Dome Rock at Yosemite National Park. [Image via Shutterstock/Lynn Y]Director Jonathan Jarvis thinks the key to making up that budget shortfall lies in corporate sponsorship. In a 33-page executive order, which you can read here, Jarvis lays out how the parks have long relied on philanthropy — that is, donations — and how, moving forward, that philanthropy will have to extend to corporate sponsorship and naming rights.

“Public-private partnerships, with for-profit and nonprofit corporations, play a key role in supporting the NPS [National Park Service] mission. They may include monetary, non-monetary, marketing, and other forms of support for NPS activities. Official partnerships can also help the NPS build constituencies, promote stewardship, and increase awareness through public engagement. The value and potential of all corporate partnerships must be consistent with the mission and purpose of the NPS, and be officially recognized through a philanthropic or strategic partnership agreement.”

Before you despair that Grand Tetons National Park is going to be renamed “Hooters Presents Grand Tetons National Park,” or that Everglades National Park is going to become “Everglades National Park By Energizer Batteries,” keep in mind that the naming rights rules are scrupulously specific and rule out such large-scale corporate sponsorships.

National park naming rights. Red Bull Presents Zion National Park? [Image via Shutterstock/RRuntsch]Instead, corporate sponsors would be able to purchase the naming rights to elements within the parks. For example, tour vehicles branded with, say, the Michelin logo could tour the national parks. Or AT&T could purchase the naming rights to a seating area where visitors could sit and take in Mount Rushmore. Corporate donors could have their names and/or logos featured on televisions or trash cans. Sponsors could purchase the naming rights to rooms within buildings, or even whole buildings.

In essence, the new rules theoretically allow the National Park Service to thread the fine line between rewarding corporate donors with visible recognition for their efforts, while avoiding turning the national parks into giant billboards.

And not everybody is convinced it will work.

Jeff Ruch is executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a group that is fighting the plan tooth and nail. He believes that selling naming rights in the national parks sets the stage for the turning the nation’s beloved public lands into corporate shills.

“You could use Old Faithful to pitch Viagra. Or the Lincoln Memorial to plug hemorrhoid cream. Or Victoria’s Secret to plug the Statue of Liberty. Every developed area in a park could become a venue for product placement.”

The rules allowing corporate sponsors to purchase naming rights within the national parks are expected to go into effect by the end of this year.

[Image via Shutterstock/Yongyut Kumsri]