Food trucks. Wi-Fi. Hot showers. Upgrades could be headed to a national park near you. The goal, according to the U.S. government, is boosting income and encouraging overnight stays. But do God-created natural wonders like the Grand Canyon and the Everglades need improvement?
At most of the country’s 61 national parks, spotty reception and baths à la wet wipe are part of the camping experience. However, a recent study by the Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee (ORAC) reveals that not everyone is satisfied with these primitive “perks.” The report says the park system “fails to meet expectations of the contemporary camping market.” But the Park Service says it can’t fund modern updates.
ORAC says that private businesses could help make camping wishes come true . . . and lower park maintenance bills too. It’s hoping that lodging, electricity, running water, internet, and other extras will attract customers. There’s even talk of adding food trucks. So when your hot dog falls in the fire, you won’t need to go to bed hungry.
The committee also suggests raising prices for campsites and introducing blackout periods for senior citizens during peak season. That’s because those visitors get discounted rates for admission and stays.
Derrick Crandall is ORAC’s vice chairman. He sees the cost hikes as unavoidable. But, he asks, “Are we talking about pricing people out of national parks through this? Not at all.”
Bringing outsiders into national parks isn’t a new concept. Gift shops, whitewater rafting, mule rides, and bike rentals are already run by private businesses at more than 100 parks. And visitors to Yosemite’s historic lodge can grab a Starbucks latte without leaving the park.
Crandall says allowing non-government businesses into the parks could free up staff for actual park work—like giving tours, meeting safety needs, and other visitor services.
According to the Park Service, more than 9.2 million people stayed at its campgrounds last year. Most of them view national parks as American treasures—so turning park campgrounds into moneymakers may seem disrespectful. Plus, some complain that upgrades will cause the cost of enjoying the great outdoors to skyrocket.
Several park campgrounds could begin pilot programs next year.
Clay Cutler lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He says he doesn’t need much when he goes camping—just a flat piece of ground for a tent, a fire ring, and good company.
“I’m not going and looking for Wi-Fi,” says Cutler. “That’s 99 percent of the reason I go camping: to get away from that and enjoy nature.”