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Report – Corporate interests rack up earnings at expense of budget for national parks

“…America’s national parks should be owned by and managed for the benefit of all Americans. However, corporate interests have been steadily attacking and whittling away at that idea. Hotels, food service providers, gift shops, and other concessionaires, such as Delaware North, are profitable businesses in the national parks. The top-four concession holders in national parks—Aramark Parks and Destinations, Delaware North Companies, Forever Resorts, and Xanterra Parks and Resorts also wield immense political power. Aramark and Delaware North have collectively given more than $500,000 to politicians since 2010. And some concessionaires are fighting, and winning, trademark battles for the names of national parks.  Although these trademark battles have grabbed headlines, a Center for American Progress review finds that concessionaires are quietly reaping the benefits of operating in national parks without fully absorbing the costs. The U.S. government routinely bills taxpayers for the maintenance of the hotels, restaurants, and other infrastructure from which these businesses profit. A review of the NPS’ list of deferred maintenance projects reveals that the NPS requests hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money to finance corporate infrastructure in the parks. This misdirected request for taxpayer funds could reduce the amount of resources available to the NPS and other land management agencies for public-interest infrastructure in the outdoors, such as the maintenance of trails, the upkeep of historic sites, and restoration and conservation projects. This brief examines the NPS’ maintenance backlog, which the agency claims totals $11.9 billion, to better understand the extent of critical, high-priority public infrastructure needs in the parks. Understanding these needs can enable Congress to invest taxpayer money effectively and responsibly in the restoration and protection of national parks. A clearer picture of the projects that make up the backlog also provides context for those who use the NPS’ own maintenance needs against itself: Often this $11.9 billion backlog is characterized as insurmountable and is used to argue against public land protection and for the privatization of national parks. A closer look at the projects that make up the backlog, however, reveals that the NPS itself should not be responsible for many of these costs and that some of the projects are higher priority than others. Addressing the backlog is not an indomitable task, and a more modest commitment of funding could go a long way toward maintaining the health and well-being of the nation’s parks and all who enjoy them…”

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