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Escapees Issues Survey To Members On NPS

Editor’s Note: This message came from the Escapees RV Club, a Livingston, Texas-based organization that has thousands of members across North America. 

We at Escapees have a rich tradition of engaging in advocacy on behalf of the RVing community. And, while we cannot fight every fight, nor will we win every fight we’ll fight, we do try to make a difference when and how we can. Sometimes we know exactly which issues to tackle, and how best to approach them. Other times, the path is less clear. We find ourselves presented with such an issue—using public-private partnerships (3Ps) to improve the RVing community’s experience on National Parks Service (NPS) lands, including updating, repairing, expanding and reopening RV campgrounds.

We think it’s appropriate to turn to you, members of the RVing community, for guidance and direction. We will attempt to advocate in a manner that most closely follows the majority opinion of our members. And, if no clear majority of our members presents itself, we will stay neutral on the issue.

A bit of framing is necessary to understand the nature and scope of the issue. Currently, there are 417 sites (59 national parks) operated by the NPS. And, there is approximately $12 billion in backlogged maintenance negatively affecting the health of the parks, campgrounds, roads and the overall visitor experience. In short, our national parks and campgrounds, built in the Eisenhower era, are falling into a state of disrepair. Moreover, NPS campgrounds have been closing over the years, due to lack of funding and resources. Additionally, the U.S. Congress has consistently failed to allocate enough money to fixing and improving the NPS parks and campgrounds.

3Ps, at their most basic level and being the version we think most closely aligns with the values of the RVing community, the RV Industry Association, the Department of the Interior, and the NPS, use the funding and operational expertise of private companies to manage and maintain federal property.

The private companies are called concessioners. Concessioners must be approved by NPS and operate under strict guidelines set forth by the NPS and federal law. Concessioners must seek approval from the NPS for proposed changes to a park, so that the integrity, iconic look and feel, and natural beauty of the park is maintained and campgrounds critical to the RV experience are repaired, modernized, expanded and reopened for your enjoyment. After an agreed upon time, either an extension is granted to the concessioner by NPS or the improvements made to a park become property of the federal government. Contracts typically range from 5-15 years.

There are many forms that a 3P can take. In the version we favor, at no time do the concessioners own the federal land (this is not privatization or selling off federal lands)—rather they manage, maintain, and operate the NPS asset, under strict terms. As such, the cost to stay overnight at national parks may or may not increase to provide a safe and modern camping experience for all Americans to enjoy. And, it is important to note that new amenities will likely be included in these rates, such as access to wi-fi, updated/larger RV sites, site-specific hookups, renovated bathhouses, etc.  Although unlikely, this could reduce some families’ ability to use and enjoy some national parks—and, the national parks should be accessible to all. But, the model we support would implement a more dynamic or “à la carte” pricing so campers that do not want or require additional amenities only pay the economical base rate.

Four potential courses of action include:

  1. Escapees remains neutral on 3P initiatives.
  2. Escapees advocates for the federal government to properly fund the repair and improvement of NPS campgrounds and other infrastructure.
  3. Escapees supports the federal government utilizing 3Ps to help fund and manage the repair and improvement of NPS campgrounds and other infrastructure.
  4. Escapees supports utilizing a dual track approach using a combination of options 2 and 3 where appropriate

The RV Industry Association, the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable, the Department of the Interior, and the National Park Service favor option utilizing option 4 – the dual-track approach.

Therefore, given the information provided above, we ask our members’ opinions on whether the federal government should engage in 3Ps to repair and improve NPS services and infrastructure, including RV campgrounds.

The survey below attempts to help us at Escapees understand whether you support the use of 3Ps in the context of the NPS and how you use these parks.

To take the survey click here.

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