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Golden Arches National Park might be on horizon

Corporations are looking at how they can support outdoor recreation on public lands.

By Tom Wharton, Salt Lake Tribune

Salt Lake City -- A few weeks ago, cartoonist Garry Trudeau ridiculed corporate sponsorship of national parks in a series of biting "Doonesbury" cartoons.

"Corporations realize investing in the outdoors and lobbying Congress for increased funding of trails, campgrounds and parks will ultimately increase their bottom lines."

To American Recreation Coalition president Derrick Crandall, the idea is no laughing matter. His organization represents many companies who benefit from the booming $350 billion-a-year outdoors industry. Industry leaders know a lack of outdoors-recreation facilities or deteriorating conditions in national parks and forests could lead to a decline in outdoors interest. That, in turn, could mean a downturn in outdoors-gear sales.

Crandall met recently with chief operating officers from companies such as Disney, Coleman, Kampgrounds of America and R.E.I. as members of the Recreation Roundtable. The group works with Congress and state governments to push a set of initiatives. For example, they would like to improve driving access. They want to introduce urban children to the joys of outdoors recreation. They hope to encourage more volunteer work in parks and forests. They seek new alliances with private landowners to provide recreation.

"We concentrate on what we call our four 'F words,'" Crandall said. "Those are fun, family, fitness and familiarity with the environment. "Our research goes into what motivates people to go outdoors. What is the driving factor that causes people to leave home? And how satisfied are they?"

The problem that land-management agencies providing outdoors recreation face is an increasing lack of funds to do the job. As a result, starting on an experimental basis, users will pay more fees in 1997 to recreate on public lands.

A recent survey by the Recreation Roundtable showed recreationists such as anglers, recreation-vehicle owners, motorcyclists and snowmobilers were least willing to pay more, largely because they already pay a fair chunk of money in gas taxes and registration fees. On the other end, campground users and mountain bikers were willing to pay more.

The idea of corporate sponsorship of national parks resulted in satirists joking that Yellowstone National Park would soon turn into McDonald's National Park or the Grand Canyon would be renamed Disney's Grand Canyon.

Crandall suggested that private industry could play several roles in helping public-land managers. For example, the Coleman Company could sponsor a weekend of free entry to a popular national or state park, allowing those struggling to enjoy a vacation a way to save money. Kodak could put together a detailed book on how to take great pictures in the national forests that would be distributed free at ranger stations.

A major sporting-goods dealer such as R.E.I might sell required permits to urban forest areas while providing environmental-education materials on protecting the land. Or a company that operates theme parks might develop a private recreation facility to help a popular state park meet increasing demands. "Dow already is involved in the National Park recycling program," Crandall said. "It was uneconomical for the park service, so it is subsidized by Dow."

Corporations realize investing in the outdoors and lobbying Congress for increased funding of trails, campgrounds and parks will ultimately increase their bottom lines.

Besides, it is the right thing to do.

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