Won’t Private Companies Just Build a McDonald’s in Front of Old Faithful?

This is one of my favorite questions, because it is absolutely predictable that it will get asked whenever I discuss park privatization with a group of government officials.  Typically I give 3 answers:

  1. It simply is not possible.  Under the terms of a typical operating contract, a concessionaire cannot change fees, facilities, operating hours, or even cut down a tree without written approval form the parks organization.
  2. It is generally not in the company’s best interest.  Generally, the parks we take over are popular for their natural or historical attractions.  Diluting these attractions in any way is just business suicide for operators.
  3. It doesn’t happen.  We operate over 100 parks in this manner across the country and you would not be able to tell the difference between the facilities we manage and any other public park.

We aren’t trying to take ownership of the land.  We aren’t trying to pave the wilderness.  We aren’t trying to build condos in front of Old Faithful.  We are in fact willing to accept whatever recreation mission or preservation mission the public owner of the park sets and manage the park to that mission. If the site is to remain primitive, we keep it primitive.  If the public agency wants new facilities, we help bring capital investment in new facilities (all approved in advance by the public agency).