ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, Maine — Despite nature lovers’ fears, new National Park Service guidelines for acknowledging corporate donations will not lead to the defacing of national treasures with signs such as “General Motors’ Cadillac Mountain,” park service officials promise.
National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis on Dec. 28, 2016, issued an order spelling out how national parks should handle donations and philanthropic partnerships, according to John Kelly, spokesman for Acadia National Park. Jarvis’ directive is in keeping with the federal law against official sponsorships of National Park Service properties and programs, Kelly said.
“It’s really an internal National Park Service policy document,” Kelly said. “The public value of the parks will not be given away.”
Naming rights for “any unit of the National Park System or a National Park System facility, historic structure, trail, or feature, including a visitor center” are prohibited by law, Jarvis noted in his order.
“While there will continue to be opportunities for limited donor recognition in parks, no one is going to commercialize national parks,” Jarvis said in a statement. “We have federal law to back us up on that.”
Jarvis’ Dec. 28 order has prompted criticism from from some national advocacy organizations and expressions of concern from others.
“While we see a role for public-private partnerships and donor recognition in parks, we want to make sure these final changes do not come at the expense of visitors’ park experience, public perception of the park service, and the duties of park staff to foremost protect resources and serve visitors,” Theresa Pierno, president and CEO of National Parks Conservation Association, said in a statement.
On Wednesday, the nonprofit group Public Citizen released a statement lambasting Jarvis’ order.
“It is disgraceful that the parks service plans to sell our national parks to the highest bidder despite overwhelming public opposition to increased commercialism in our national parks,” Kristen Strader, campaign coordinator for the group’s Commercial Alert Program, said in the release. “More than 215,000 petition signers and hundreds of commenters opposed this policy. Now that this policy has been finalized, park visitors soon could be greeted with various forms of advertisements, like a sign reading ‘brought to you by McDonald’s’ within a new visitor’s center at Yosemite, or ‘Budweiser’ in script on a park bench at Acadia.”
Strader did credit Jarvis with “one right move,” however, by prohibiting corporate logos from being displayed on exhibits and interpretive outdoor signage. According to the park service, logos will continue to be permitted as part of acknowledgments of support in printed material, audiovisual products and temporary construction/restoration signs, as they have been since 2008.
Park officials and others dispute Strader’s assertion that physical acknowledgment of a corporate donor, or the limited visibility of donor logos, amounts to advertising.
David MacDonald, president of the nonprofit group Friends of Acadia, said Thursday that the order codifies what already has been in practice for years in terms of how the park service accepts donations, works with private philanthropy organizations and publicly recognizes donors and partners.
According to MacDonald, the order allows for things such as naming a room in a park building after a donor or erecting a temporary sign acknowledging the sponsor of a renovation project. The order does not allow advertising or marketing slogans or taglines to be displayed anywhere on park property, he said.
“There will not be signs for Patagonia or Subaru in the park in any way, shape or form,” MacDonald said.
Jarvis’ order, however, does not apply to a corporate logo that has been readily visible in Acadia each summer and fall — L.L. Bean, which is a major sponsor of the Island Explorer bus system, has had its logo on the free, propane-powered vehicles ever since they started operating in and around Acadia in 1999.
The buses are exempt from Jarvis’ order, Kelly said, because the bus system is operated by the nonprofit organization Downeast Transportation and is not part of the National Park Service.
Like L.L. Bean, Acadia National Park contributes money each year to the Island Explorer bus system, which is funded primarily with federal transportation money. Since 2002, L.L. Bean has donated and pledged more than $4 million toward the Island Explorer, which has been widely credited with helping to limit summertime traffic congestion in much of Acadia and the surrounding communities on Mount Desert Island.
MacDonald said that he’s only heard positive feedback from the public about the bus system. He added that he thinks the acknowledgment of L.L. Bean on the buses is appropriate and helps raise awareness of the role private philanthropy has in supporting the national park system.
Given the funding challenges the park service faces, he added, the role that donors have played for the past 100 years — the Rockefellers and Roxanne Quimby among them — is only going to become even more important.
But, he added, he does not think increased private support of national parks will result in increased commercialization of park facilities. Inappropriate attempts by donors to draw attention to or to financially benefit from their support of national parks, he said, likely would backfire.
“It is not in their best interests to overreach,” MacDonald said. “Any smart corporation will realize that.”