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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


Usually, as in Big South Fork's case, the work of business-izing national parks involves fairly mundane details. John Kelly, park planner at Acadia National Park, says that when he took part in the Business Plan Initiative in 2001, the visiting students took a "SWAT team approach" and "started at a very basic level. It was, 'How many people does it take to clean a restroom X number of times, over Y number of days?'" Capozzi and Cohn focused on the size of Big South Fork's truck fleet, as well as its utility costs. Over at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, their colleagues Alice Bond (environmental management, Yale School of Forestry), Alison Sekikawa (MBA, Dartmouth), and Sindhu Srinath (public administration, Columbia) analyzed whether installing automated fee machines might help the park collect money from visitors during hours when entrance gates aren't staffed.

Such small tweaks can deliver results. Findings from Shenandoah's two business plans convinced park managers to hire a permanent volunteer coordinator--who increased volunteer work-hours in the park 29 percent in fiscal year 2004, getting for free the equivalent of 29.2 full-time workers. Shenandoah also streamlined waste management. Reducing the number of trash cans at Skyline Drive's scenic overlooks from 75 to 2 saves $30,000 a year on garbage pickups, says park spokesperson Karen Beck Herzog, who adds that littering has not increased as a result. Cutting back on maintenance supervision saved park managers at the Natchez Trace Parkway around $200,000 a year (about 5 percent of costs)--again with no ill effects, according to park sources. Great Smoky Mountains has saved around $300,000 annually by making changes to its auto fleet, economizing on utilities, and pursuing other cost-reducing strategies.



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