|NATIONAL PARKS QUICKLINKS|
Backpacker Magazine – November/December 2005
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?
"It's like having a 50-year-old house that needs a lot of work," explains park spokesperson Joan Anzelmo. She says the park has been hit hard by rising fuel costs and a maintenance backlog that's $60 million and climbing. "We have to look at ways to make our federal dollars stretch."
The impacts can be subtle, and they can be far-reaching, too. The core tasks of the outsourced positions might be collecting fees, keeping nighttime quiet, and maintaining restrooms, but the seasonal workers, who often see these jobs as stepping-stones to full-time gigs, have training in firefighting, first aid, and helping keep scavenging bears out of the campgrounds. Some critics wonder whether a here-one-summer-gone-the-next kid making $7.50 an hour will have the same kind of devotion. To make matters tougher, this shift comes at a time when Grand Teton is cutting its rolls of seasonal staff. Last year, the park hired fewer summer workers in its interpretive division, which runs visitor centers and guided hikes, than it did in 2003, and shortened the season of many it did hire. The trend continued in 2005; according to a park spokesperson, Grand Teton limited some seasonal positions and "restructured" other services.
To be sure, all this belt-tightening isn't the end of the world for lovers of the park. Grand Teton isn't the first NPS gem to transfer campsite jobs to private companies--Yellowstone, Denali, and others have, too. But Grand Teton's move toward privatization, as well as other efforts to shrink its seasonal workforce, is emblematic of the pressure that all parks face today. According to a 2004 study by the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), a nonprofit advocacy group, the parks' budgets are underfunded by about 30 percent. As the gap between how much money they need and how much they get grows wider, park managers are inviting more and more companies, people, and ideas from the private sector to help stretch their dollars.