Parks Policy Would Highlight Donor Names
By MARY CLARE JALONICK, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON -- The Interior Department is poised to begin naming benches, bricks and rooms in national parks after private donors, a practice that critics say sends mixed signals about industry influence on public lands policy.
Park Service officials say the new guidelines, which could be approved by early next year, would simply make it easier for the agency to recognize corporations and individuals who are already giving. Names already appear on plaques around parks, but the new policy would make donors more prominent.
Corporate logos would be forbidden in most cases, officials say.
"We hope to create a positive tone for philanthropy," said John Piltzecker, chief of the parks' partnership office.
The guidelines, which will be reviewed again by the agency after the public comment period closes next week, would also allow some high-level employees to solicit donations.
Piltzecker says the signage would be tasteful and unobtrusive. But environmental groups argue it's a slippery slope.
Jeff Ruch, executive director of the advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, says the policy "starts a slow motion commercialization of the national park system."
"What will be allowed stops just short of licensing ads for 'The Official Beer of Yosemite' or 'Old Faithful, Brought to You by Viagra,'" Ruch said.
Under a worst-case scenario, Ruch said, companies that have a direct interest in national parks would take advantage of the new policy. If snowmobile manufacturers were recognized for donations to Yellowstone National Park, for example, it might appear as if the industry were attempting to influence debate over the use of their vehicles in the park, he said.
"Presumably these donations would be made with an eye toward corporate self-interest," he said.
Another fear, Ruch said, is that park visitors would be encouraged to make donations upon their visits. Currently, the parks accept donations but don't aggressively encourage them.
The order states that any new installations recognizing donors should not be placed in areas where they would "compete for attention with, or attract attention away from, the purpose for which the park was created to commemorate."
The guidelines also say that no park features or facilities can be named after donors.
The idea of increased signage has met with mixed reaction. One park superintendent, Vaughn Baker of Rocky Mountain National Park, has said he will not name rooms after donors if the proposal becomes final.
Others say more donor recognition is essential to bring in private dollars.
"You have to thank donors, that's just part of being in the philanthropic world," said Ken Olson, president of a group that raises money for Acadia National Park in Maine. "The question is: How do you do it tastefully?"
On the Net:
National Park Service: http://www.nps.gov/
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility: http://www.peer.org/
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