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Backpacker Magazine – November/December 2005

National Parks Inc.

Like it or not, national parks are officially in the business of business. Will this focus destroy the soul of a national institution--or save it in these lean times?

by: Eryn Brown

Ultimately, Smith says, the whole enterprise of business-think is bad for the soul of the parks. "There's a spiritual element and a historical-philosophical element that's entirely missing in this hardheaded realist idea of the world," Smith says. "The bottom line is, when you set something aside, you set it aside. Not because it's convenient, but because that was the deal. And to try to remake it as something that follows the goals and responses of business is to misunderstand it entirely."

Maybe so, but high-minded rhetoric doesn't put money in the coffers. Harvard MBA student Reese Neumann, a 28-year-old business-plan consultant who's helping staff at California's Channel Islands National Park improve endangered species preservation and distance-learning offerings, thinks Smith's hard line is nuts. "My perspective is, you're not going to get all the money you want. You should never stop fighting for those funds. But in the meantime, what can you do to meet the deficit? Do you spend more here, or there?"

Apostle Islands' Krumenaker wistfully agrees. "I'm up here with my business plan, saying, 'It's a new world, folks.' We're talking to corporate donors, and others, and there's a certain amount of salesmanship that is uncomfortable. People worry, are we selling ourselves to the highest bidder? It's a concern," he admits. "We all may long for our grandfather's National Park Service. But it's not here anymore."

Eryn Brown approaches freelance writing like a business from her home in Sherman Oaks, CA.

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