Visitors at the Grand Canyon and other national parks want to marvel at the natural beauty and grandeur, not at how fast Dominos delivers a pizza by drone. This is a core takeaway of the demise of a federal panel looking at ways to privatize some parts of the public lands experience for visitors. The group’s initial recommendations were very much at odds with public perceptions of what those experiences should be.

The Interior Department’s recreation advisory committee had a fitful two years of service marked by board resignations. In the end, the idea of modernizing National Parks and other popular recreation areas didn’t look as good as it sounded. Food trucks? Wi-fi? Amazon deliveries? Senior pass restrictions?

Those are the things people largely seek to escape when they visit public lands, particularly national parks. So this one group got it wrong. That hardly precludes finding the way to do it right. A major objective should be to provide revenue to the Park Service to whittle down its fabled $12 billion maintenance backlog.

Private companies likely could do a better, more financially efficient job at providing some park and public lands visitor services. Campgrounds are high on the list. Clean bathrooms are a must. In some popular areas, campgrounds could be expanded and the reservation system made more efficient.

Campgrounds are just the start: Transportation, food and interpretive services are big categories where private firms, operating as concessionaires, could help the Park Service and the public.

These services aren’t limited to National Parks themselves. Nearby communities have great opportunities as the gateways and often initial stop in the area.

Public lands make America the envy of the world. The West’s parks and other public wide open spaces are a tremendous draw for visitors around the world anxious to see the sprawling public landscapes they cannot in their own countries. Public lands are the draw. The experiences can be improved, but better doesn’t have to mean more like everywhere else in the developed world.

— Today’s News-Herald


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