Should corporations sponsor national parks?

Published 10:06 am Wednesday, May 18, 2016

by Danny Tyree

Whether I was a preschooler hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a young adult spelunking in Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave or a father introducing his son to Shiloh National Military Park, I always felt I could enjoy America’s treasures without too much intrusion from Madison Avenue.

According to the Washington Post, things are about to change.

Facing an $11 billion backlog in unfunded maintenance projects, the National Park Service is tinkering with the definition of philanthropy. They’re granting corporate sponsors the opportunity to prominently display logos and gain limited naming rights at the nation’s 411 national parks, monuments and conservation areas.

You say you want to know why Congress hasn’t come to the rescue? Hey, those humanitarian snowplows for Tahiti’s national monuments don’t come cheap, pal. And it’s not that congressmen don’t have national treasures on the brain. Or is it they have a Grand Canyon between their ears? Something like that.

Observers fear that corporate sponsorship/meddling will ruin the beauty, simplicity and tranquility of our parks. The rules as written do not allow any actual advertising or marketing slogans, but watch for such blemishes to creep in. Old Faithful geyser would seem an irresistible icon for the Acme Bidet Company. Out west, campaigns will proclaim, “Home, home on the range, where the deer and the antelope play…Laser Tag!” War of 1812 buffs should not be surprised if loudspeakers at Fort McHenry blare, “Oh, say can you see…who’s behind those Foster Grants?”

Don’t get me started on the sleazy advertising possibilities for Valley Forge. (“The Father of Our Country…on dollar bills. Dollar bills…in G-strings. What could be more natural?”)

Other concerned citizens worry more that park managers will be devoting too much of their time to fundraising. I can just imagine park rangers using a tranquilizer gun on a potential sponsor. (“Now, now — slow down and let’s talk this over before you give all your money to PBS.”)

Yes, park officials will be tempted to give up on studying the mating rituals of migratory birds and start studying the mating rituals of CEOs. (“Couldn’t help but notice you and the showgirl getting out of Motel 6. Perhaps for a small donation this photo could disappear before it reaches your wife…”)

Park Service officials hope corporate sponsorships will help attract a younger, more ethnically diverse class of tourists. Right. (“Shoot! My posse and I were planning a road trip to the all-star hip-hop festival, but if a company that has been cranking out consumer goods for a century and a half is interested in the Rosie the Riveter historical park, it just HAS to be cool!”)

Maybe instead of accepting corporate tie-ins, we could redesign some of the sites to attract millennials. Instead of Lincoln’s childhood home, we could have Lincoln’s Parents’ Basement He Had To Crash In While Paying Off Student Loans.

There will be tremendous pressure on both park officials and corporate executives to strike the best deals. And there will be mistakes.

“Johnson, I expected our huge investment to get us the naming rights for the Coke Amphitheater and Coke Zero Amphitheater.”

“Well, yes, but…”

“And you got us the Emma Amphitheater and the Noah Amphitheater????”

“But they’re both such POPULAR names. I couldn’t resist…”

“We’re reassigning you to the Siberian territory. Just keep your nose to the grindstone and don’t mess with the U.S.-supplied humanitarian beach blankets.”

Danny Tyree welcomes email responses at and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades”. Danny’s’ weekly column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc. newspaper syndicate.