The National Park Service’s 100th Birthday Should Be Its Last

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The National Park Service is celebrating 100 years in existence today, and will even give free admission to all parks through the end of the weekend:

That’s nice and all, but there’s no real reason why the NPS should have a 101st birthday.

There’s no reason why we should be spending well over $3 billion a year and employing roughly 16,000 people on the federal level to oversee a program that is not a federal priority.

There’s a pretty simple solution here. Send the park ownership down to the states. Some conservative states may privatize. Some liberal states may further subsidize. What’s unlikely to happen, however, is a complete dismantling of major landmarks, which is the fear language some will use to describe potential privatization.

Leonard Gilroy took on this issue in a piece on Reason 6 years ago:

Private companies currently operate the commercial activities—lodges, shops, restaurants, and the like—in such treasured national parks as the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and Yellowstone. Similarly, the Forest Service makes extensive use of concessionaires to operate and maintain complete parks and campgrounds more effectively and efficiently than government.

States could use this model to take on new park lands without absorbing them into their budget. One Forest Service contractor in Arizona recently offered to take over six state parks targeted for closure amid budget cuts. The concessionaire would collect the same visitor fees the state charges today while taking the operations and maintenance costs off the state’s books entirely. Further, the company would pay the state an annual “rent” based on a percentage of the fees collected, turning parks into a revenue generator instead of a money eater.

Devolving federal land to states could begin with pilot programs in select states to test the model and refine best practices. Once perfected, the process could be extended throughout the Forest Service and then replicated in the Bureau of Land Management, which owns roughly the same amount of Western land and costs taxpayers another $1.1 billion a year.

Get the federal government out of the land management business and give states the opportunity to generate revenue instead of taxing us for parks? Yes, please.

I don’t want to see national parks sent to the states and/or privatized because I hate natural beauty. It’s because I want to protect it, and make our parks financially secure, at the right level of government.