Advancing a Free Society

Care for a Coke with that tree?

Monday, August 29, 2011

It was refreshing to read the following about state parks in the Los Angeles Times:

The California State Parks Department “should be praised for not just sitting by while parks close, but seeking out innovative ways to keep its natural gems accessible to the public.”

Rather than simply shutting down 70 state parks, the department is considering more corporate logos in the parks as well as limited private management agreements. Although these options might “conjure up a mountain range’s worth of slippery slopes, they’re better than the alternative.”

In fact, as summarized by the NCPA, a few logo agreements already are in place:

  • A partnership between Coca-Cola and Stater Bros., for example, replanted trees in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, which in 2003 suffered a wildfire so devastating that there were no trees left to provide seed for new growth.
  • The companies also partnered in a project that rehabilitated areas of Chino Hills State Park after a 2008 fire burned more than 90 percent of the park.
  • Stater Bros., a supermarket chain, promoted offers in which the purchase of $10 worth of Coca-Cola products would result in a donation of $1 to state parks.
  • Customers were invited to donate an additional small sum at the store.
  • Over three years, $2 million was raised.
  • In exchange, very modest renditions of the companies' logos are included at

    the bottom of interpretive signs in the parks.

This approach, known as “cause marketing,” falls somewhere between philanthropy and branding; companies gain sales through promotions, exposure, and goodwill. But, as stated in the Times, “no one is talking about changing Chino Hills’ name to Fanta Hills State Park. Corporate officials say they wouldn’t even want such a thing; overpromoting their role creates a backlash.”

California State Parks Director Ruth Coleman says this move toward private agreements, whether for logos or outright park operation, would not be allowed to change the essential character of the parks. Just as it is doing for outside operating agreements, the parks department can draw up strict guidelines for corporate partnerships to avoid “logo creep.”

Other ideas for saving parks include allowing nonprofit organizations to run some of them, forming partnerships with counties or cities, or offering concessions to companies to manage parks that otherwise would close.

There are several examples of private firms operating public parks. In fact, nearly half of all Forest Service campgrounds are managed via private leases. Most campers are unaware of this arrangement because, as my colleague, Holly Fretwell points out, “unlike a KOA with swimming pools and laundromats, the wild and scenic amenities remain protected.”

The financial crisis followed by shrinking tax revenues has brought many state parks to their knees—nine states have proposed park closures between 2000 and 2011. But as Fretwell points out in “Funding Parks,” it is simply not necessary for park budgets to be threatened during every fiscal crisis.

(photo credit: natedregerphoto)