Image from the Alt National Park Service
Dear Mr. President,
When I was 12, my mother put her four young children in our minivan and used money she’d saved from tutoring and a yard sale to take us around the country for the summer. We left from Philadelphia on a hot summer day and proceeded to drive through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Montana, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. This is how I learned what it meant to be an American: by being immersed in our country’s radically diverse subcultures and regional geologies. Through National Parks, Recreation Areas, State Parks, Native Reservations, Campgrounds, and National Monuments, we carved a trail composed of American history, natural beauty, and uncontaminated education. I imagine this is an experience that you, unfortunately, have never had the privilege of being privy to.
This trip was the best gift my mother could have given us. It also made me eternally grateful to our country’s National Park Service, like many other proud Americans. Since that summer, I have remained an avid outdoor adventurer and advocate for the environment. When I was still studying for my business degree, I often focused on the ever-growing outdoor recreation economy. In the past year, public lands have been my area of expertise, as your administration increasingly has me worried about the future of our shared wild spaces.
To begin, I would like to first thank you for generously donating your first quarterly salary of $78,333.32 to the National Park Service. The hard truth about the Park Service is that there is a huge budget deficit and massive backlog of work to be done to upkeep roads, trails, and buildings in often rough terrain. As it stands, the National Park Service boasts 400 parks that bring in up to $16 billion in tourism dollars every year and covers 400 million acres of land open to the public. The National Park Service receives less federal funding than the city of Austin, Texas. There has been a proposed cut of $1.5 billion from the Department of the Interior under your administration, and it is still unknown to the public just how much would be cut from the National Park Service budget.
The National Park Service has already been steadily affected by your administration. The federal hiring freeze and gag order came directly from you. As you know, Badlands National Park did not take well to your gag order, and their resistance has lead to the creation of the Alternate National Park Service across social media platforms: a public forum for blocking your involvement in or destruction of our primitive, protected places. These forums are comprised of people like myself, who value our recreation spaces at a high level. The outdoor recreation economy’s popularity and reach has steadily grown annually over the past five years. The constituents that make up this sizeable consumer base are set to become a serious political force. If you continue to threaten the places we hold dear, this force will come for you. But hopefully it doesn’t have to come to that.
Since you seem to love cutting deals, I would like to propose one to you: Instead of cutting funding for public lands, find a better way to fund them. Motivate those who value public lands the most. I would like to propose a tax on the outdoor recreation economy to help fill the budget deficit for the National Park Service.
Companies like Patagonia, who earlier this year pulled out of Outdoor Retailer to raise awareness about protecting recently crowned Bears Ears National Monument, have such high consumer willingness-to-pay levels, price hikes from taxation are essentially negligible. Tax Patagonia. Tax North Face, Teva, Columbia, and Mountain Hardware. Tax skis and water bottles alike. Tax climbing gear and bike racks. Keep roads maintained, keep salaries for park rangers, continue to fund youth programming in parks.
The outdoor recreation economy has nothing if it loses its wild spaces in which its participants play, and dominant companies in the industry recognize this. If it means we get to climb at Arches National Park or hike in Yosemite for many generations to come, people like me want you to take our money. Stop slashing budgets for industries you don’t understand. National Parks make people believe in the value and beauty of America. Continued dedication to the Parks and the Park Service stands to benefit all.