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Privatize national parks

By Casey Jones

Tribune Columnist

I visited Great Basin National Park last month. If the government cared enough to hand out customer satisfaction surveys, I'd have given it a failing grade.


1) Wildlife - F. There were four measly deer stationed by the campground, and not a buck among them. Worse, they were wild . You couldn't even pet them or pose for pictures.


2) Scenic Drive - F. The view of the valley was often blocked by trees. They need to be cut down, for goodness sake, so people can see nature.


3) Access - F. The road up Mt. Wheeler ends thousands of feet short of the summit. They actually expect you to get out and walk the rest of the way. I didn't drive hundreds of miles to walk.


Unfortunately, Great Basin is the rule instead of the exception. Our underfunded national parks system is in deep trouble. We desperately need new and expanded facilities, but, with a maintenance backlog approaching $8 billion, we can't afford to take care of what we've already got. And it's starting to show.


For example, Death Valley is barren and in desperate need of landscaping. The falling arches at Arches are screaming for rebar and concrete. And only a dam can slow the erosion that has carved a giant chasm in Grand Canyon National Park.


It's the opportunity Republicans have been waiting for. They've already reintroduced "tort reform" and "red menace" into the political lexicon. Now it's time for the return of another GOP buzz word -- "privatize."


Folks, we can rebuild the parks, develop them, make them better than before, and it won't even cost $6 million. That's because taxpayers won't be paying the bills. The parks need the kind of tender, loving capital investment and sound fiscal management that only private enterprise can provide.


Corporate sponsorship would be a good way to start. I'm thinking Zions Bank Park, Sea World's Capitol Reef, Minute (B)ryce Canyon. Congress could pitch the Lincoln Memorial to Ford Motor Co., Old Faithful to Viagra, Glacier National Park to Frigidaire.


But sponsorship alone won't be enough. Economic development opportunities abound on park service property, and we need to take advantage of them. For example, the National Mall in Washington would be a great place for a real mall, an American mall, the kind with a Gap and an Orange Julius. And they wouldn't have to waste millions of dollars replacing the torn-up turf.


And why not give the private sector a crack at providing new accomodations? The rustic (i.e. old and rundown) lodges lack satellite televisions, hot tubs, pay-per-view skinflicks -- the kind of amenities companies like Marriott can provide.


And, instead of just celebrating nature in the parks, why not celebrate our industrial heritage by giving guests a chance to see industry in action while allowing taxpayers to collect royalties.


Commence logging operations. It's one thing to see a redwood tree, but it's a lot more impressive to see one come crashing down. And mining operations. Thar's metals of many colors in them thar hills.


And, to keep the green weenies happy, turn Yellowstone into one big geothermal energy demonstration project. Hey, it takes sacrifice to save the world.


The Republicans need to do everything they can, and I mean everything, to ramp up revenue. And, if they couch it correctly, they can win Democratic support.


For example, charging to use the restrooms. If they called it Paygo, at least the Blue Dog Democrats would sign on.


Casey Jones is a member of the Tribune editorial board. E-mail him at cjones@sltrib.com


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