Ryan Zinke’s Legacy: Glamping and Amazon Deliveries in our National Parks

Amazon delivery trucks. Wi-Fi stations to post your killer Instagram photos right from the trail. Food trucks when you can’t be troubled to make your own damn S’mores at the campfire.

For most Montanans, the idea of transforming our national parks from natural cathedrals where, despite the summer traffic and sometimes crowded trails, one can get away from our cellphones and the other pressures of modern life, is a nightmare. The idea of allowing people to get Amazon deliveries at their campsites is an affront to the very idea our campsites were founded upon.

And if it comes to pass, Montana’s own Ryan Zinke will bear much of the blame. The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday that a corporate-dominated committee Zinke established before he was forced out of Interior is proposing these changes and more, including a massive cost increase for senior citizens visiting the parks:

Leaders of the Interior Department’s “Made in America” Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee say these changes could make America’s national parks more attractive to a digitally minded younger generation and improve the quality of National Park Service facilities amid a huge maintenance backlog. As part of its plan, the committee calls for blacking out senior discounts at park campgrounds during peak holiday seasons.

“Our recommendations would allow people to opt for additional costs if they want, for example, Amazon deliveries at a particular campsite,” said Derrick Crandall, vice chairman of the committee and a counselor with the nonprofit National Park Hospitality Assn. “We want to let Americans make their own decisions in the marketplace.”

Letting the marketplace decide is a wonderful euphemism for what the industry group wants: to massively expand their footprint in our national parks, transforming public camping sites for working Americans into glamping centers for people who will want concierge service to start their fires, attendants to set up their tents, and servers to cater to their needs while they don new outerwear more suited for an expedition to Everest than for an evening of sipping whiskey by the fire on a Montana summer night.

The committee offering these proposals was as corrupt as anything Ryan Zinke touched. The Times reports that, despite being warned about massive conflicts of interest, Zinke appointed members from KOA, concessionaires in the parks, and lobbying firms to the committee, who, unsurprisingly, developed proposals to enhance their profits at the expense of authentic experiences in the parks and the integrity of the parks themselves.

In classic Republican fashion, the same Republicans who have starved the parks of resources are using that very scarcity to justify privatization:

The committee’s proposals would make their concession contracts more profitable than ever. They call for “categorical permissions” to sidestep environmental impact reviews for campground expansion and development, and new policies to ensure that concessionaires be compensated for investments and assets when a competitor is awarded its contract.

“The corporate interests on this committee stand to financially benefit from the privatization and corporate giveaways they are empowered to make,” said Nicole Gentile, deputy director of public lands at the Center for American Progress, a liberal Washington think tank. “And they are strategically inflating the Park Service’s maintenance backlog to use it as a talking point to scare the public into accepting privatization as necessary in our national parks.”

There has always been something pathetic about Ryan Zinke’s effort to connect himself to Teddy Roosevelt—a brand his former spokesperson claimed to have invented for him—but it would be devastating if Zinke’s short, scandal-ridden, embarrassment of a tenure as Secretary of the Interior ended up being best known for his destruction of the very idea of our national parks.  It was Roosevelt, after all, who told us that we can’t waste the gift of the heritage of our natural resources:

“Our duty to the whole, including the unborn generations, bids us restrain an unprincipled present-day minority from wasting the heritage of these unborn generations. The movement for the conservation of wild life and the larger movement for the conservation of all our natural resources are essentially democratic in spirit, purpose, and method.”

Before he was forced out of office for his corruption, Ryan Zinke set that waste, the kind of waste it’s hard to believe someone who grew up on the edge of Glacier could countenance, in motion–and his corporate cronies and successor are trying to follow through on it while the graft and corruption in Washington approaches levels not seen since the Harding Administration.

We need to let Congress and the Administration know we won’t let them destroy our national parks, and when Ryan Zinke slinks out of whatever corporate swamp he’s been hiding in to run for office in Montana again, we can’t afford to forget that he led the effort to do so.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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