There’s still a great deal up in the air about how the National Park Service will be operated under the current presidential administration, but if recent comments by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke are any indication, more privatization may be on the way.

In a speech before the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association two weeks ago, Zinke made clear that he feels private companies would do a better job managing NPS campgrounds than the current NPS staff does. Zinke cited the backlog in maintenance (estimated at over $11 billion) for NPS parks as evidence that reducing the burden of things like campground maintenance by awarding concessionaire contracts for control of campgrounds would be good for the NPS.

Whether that would be good for NPS visitors or not remains to be seen, though Zinke clearly thinks it would: “My folks will never be as good [at managing campgrounds] as you are,” he told the assembled RV industry insiders.

What that privatized management might look like is anybody’s guess, but Derrick Crandall, a representative for the National Parks Hospitality Association, a trade group that represents concessionaires for the NPS, offered a very urban and RV-congested vision for what many hope remain wild places. Crandall explained that updated, privatized campgrounds in NPS parks might feature abundant wi-fi, lots more pavement for RVs, and the introduction of—hope you’re sitting down—food trucks.

Of course, Zinke recently expressed support for the White House’s budget proposal, which strips tens of millions of dollars in funding for the NPS. Funding that could ease the maintenance shortfalls without allowing more private control over public lands.

From Zinke and Crandall’s statements, it appears that they feel federal funding is bad for public lands, but more wi-fi and idling food trucks are good.

Photo by Joey Maloney

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