Petition: Keep ads out of national parks

A petition carrying the signatures of more than 200,000 people opposed to loosening restrictions on corporate sponsorships at national parks was delivered to the National Park Service during a meeting on Friday.

“These are our public lands and the Congress, taxpayers should be funding the parks,” said Kristen Strader of the advocacy group Public Citizen. Strader was joined at the Park Service meeting by a representative from the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood.

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The sponsorship policy would allow the cash-strapped National Park Service to actively seek donations from corporate vendors, loosen rules on donor recognition, drop the current policy that parks must be free of commercialism and lift various restrictions on naming rights in parks.

"You won't have Yosemite sponsored by Walmart, but you will have plenty of advertising within the park," Strader said. "You might have benches that have corporations on them in script, stones within the park that have corporate logos on them. The answer is not to give them up to corporations and let commercial interests come in."

The National Park Service is responsible for 412 parks, battlefields, monuments and recreational areas covering 84 million acres in every state and most U.S. territories. 

The 2016 federal budget sets aside almost $3 billion for the National Park Service, but a representative from the agency said it has a $12 billion backlog in much-needed repairs and improvements. The National Park Service said it is embarking on a $350 million fundraising campaign to celebrate the agency's centennial.

National Park Service spokesman Jeffrey Olson said the law and policy prohibit the naming of parks by corporations or donors, and it is considering all public comments concerning the policy changes. 

"Philanthropy has always been a part of national parks and the National Park Service," Olson said. "Changes to our policy will bring the National Park Service into the 21st century of philanthropy while we remain true to our mission to protect and preserve America's iconic historical, cultural and natural landscapes for enjoyment today and for generations to come."

Some national parks have already allowed some commercial sponsorship, including a Subaru-sponsored park vehicle and an agreement with Anheuser-Busch that put images of the Statue of Liberty on some Budweiser bottles.