Underfunded national parks are vulnerable targets for commercial use

It seems that no place in America is safe from capitalism’s tantalizing reach. A recent editorial published by The New York Times condemns the emerging trend of corporations infiltrating state and national parks around the country with marketing schemes. State and national parks are advertising’s new frontier, with previously secluded and protected areas being commercialized for much-needed park revenue. King County in Washington offers companies naming rights and sponsorships for park trails and trees, and also allowed food chain Chipotle to hide 30 replica burritos in the park as a scavenger hunt promotion for its guests.

Even such well-known parks as Yosemite National Park are selling and dedicating park infrastructure to corporations. It is no surprise that the National Park Service now allows this corporate branding in parks, as nature has never been completely free from human corruption, disturbance and greed.

The underlying issue regarding this corporate marketing, however, is why parks need this form of revenue in the first place. Within the past few years, operation funding to state and national parks has slowly declined. Funding for national parks declined by 7 percent—$173 million—between 2010-15, according to National Parks Conservation Association.

The Association claims that the average American citizen pays as much per year for national parks as they would for a cup of coffee.

The iconic Yellowstone National Park and Grand Canyon National Park face budget cuts as well, with Yellowstone delaying its seasonal openings to save money on employee and labor costs. Rocky Mountain National Park public affairs director Kyle Patterson explained that Rocky Mountain has been forced to reduce seasonal employees and to decrease visiting center hours in response to budget cuts.

As students who enjoy the nearby Letchworth State Park and other New York State preserved parks, it is frustrating to see nature being treated as capitalist advertising opportunities. The last thing a visitor wants to see on a trip to a state or national park is Coca-Cola or Michelin marketing amongst the mountains, canyons, trees and wildlife.

National parks and other similar programs are among the first to receive budget cuts in times of economic stress, and this reflects a collective disinterest by Americans in financially investing in conservation efforts––even though national parks are some of the most popular tourist attractions in the country, receiving over 292 million visitors in 2014 alone.

Our nation’s parks deserve to remain untouched and untreated by commercialism and materialism. It is a shame that lack of funding drives parks to generate revenue from such unworthy places.