Waterfalls and WiFi? Proposals to Modernize the National Parks

Lucy Tashjian, Writer

The U.S. is home to 61 sites formally designated as “National Parks” that are protected under the National Park Service. Yellowstone, the Everglades, and the Grand Canyon are among these national treasures that have garnered worldwide acclaim and receive millions of visitors every year. A team of advisers to the Trump administration has proposed a “modernization” of the national parks, to which they claim will revive America’s parks and address the $11.9 billion maintenance backlog facing the National Park System. 


Recommendations include permitting Amazon deliveries, food trucks, and WiFi in the campgrounds. The proposal also seeks to eliminate senior discounts at park campgrounds during peak holiday and vacation seasons. As for privatizing the operation of campgrounds, adding running water and tent and cabin rentals, as well as extending family sites are among other suggestions. Derrick Crandall, vice chairman of the Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee, told the L.A. Times that “Our recommendations would allow people to opt for additional costs if they want. We want to let American make their own decisions in the marketplace.” “Are we talking about pricing people out of national parks through this? Not at all,” said Crandall in an interview with the Associated Press last month. 


Unsurprisingly, the recommendations have generated a considerable amount of controversy, and opposition has called them a transfer of public assets to private industry. Many conservationist organizations have agreed that these changes would rob the public lands of what makes them special and only serve to benefit private industries or individuals. Moreover, the cost of a senior pass has already spiked from $10 to $80, and the proposal would hurt older Americans who want to visit the parks. Since the Trump administration came to office in 2016, there have been a number of efforts to privatize a variety of public services, such as the Veterans Administration and the U.S. Postal Service. Meanwhile, the White House has sought to reduce spending for many public services, and this entails a $481 million budget cut in 2020 for the National Park Service. 


David Vela, deputy director of the National Park Service, said that the advisory committee was dissolved on November 1, and no action will be taken until the suggestions are thoroughly reviewed and assessed by both the Department of Interior and the National Park Service. Having faced severe backlash, it is uncertain how many of the proposed initiatives will be put into effect.