This just in…

The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) intends to privatize our national parks. In other words, permit business interests to proceed in the Goofy spirit of the late Walt Disney and monetize mountains and moose as the venerable cartoonist once did a talking mouse.

Let them log our forests to the hilt, bottle up our rivers in plastic, and sell open range tracts until the cows come home. What’s wilderness for if not for sale? 

The DOI’s misguided idea means the feds may open up Yellowstone, Mesa Verde, Grand Canyon, Shenandoah, Great Smoky Mountain, Arches, Death Valley, Denali and hundreds of other national park units to private enterprise, be it drilling oil or selling burritos.

 With Rocky Mountain National Park smack dab in Grand County, we locals stand to take advantage of more money-making attractions than Grand Lake has t-shirt shops. 

Rather than horses hauling riders up and down Green Mountain Trail, let there be Jeeps. Instead of fly-fishing from the shore of Poudre Lake, let there be noisy outboards with water-skiers in tow.

If the feds have their way, it won’t be long before an ambitious entrepreneur builds a tram that scales Colorado’s highest mountains in the time it takes to post your selfies on Facebook.

 Why trudge up 14,259-foot Longs Peak on a foot trail with a bunch of other sweaty hikers when you can ride a tram in style? Upon arrival at the summit, treat your hard-earned appetite to a Wendy’s spicy chicken wrap and a margarita from Casa Bonita.

The DOI’s mission, guided by the White House—of course—is all about profits. Let’s manage our National Parks like Sam Walton ran his retail empire and ignore that outdated mantra about preserving and protecting wilderness.

What patriotic souls can argue with the proposition that America’s finest landscapes are sorely lacking when it comes to providing habitat for a Ramada Inn or Costco?

 Would Old Faithful not be more exciting with a bowling alley nearby? Yosemite visitors deserve a rollercoaster, don’t you think? Is it asking too much of our Washington swamp (not to be confused with the Everglades) to contract for an Apple emporium atop the Grand Teton for all of our iPhone needs?

For many summers, I worked as a national park ranger at Colorado National Monument. These days, I volunteer at Rocky Mountain National Park, helping visitors find trails and avoid trouble. As a former employee of the National Park Service, I receive monthly reports from a nonprofit called The Coalition to Protect America.

A recent edition of the Coalition’s report raised troubling concerns about the DOI’s plans.

Consider these excerpts:

  • Ø  An advisory panel created by former Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is recommending that the Interior Department privatize more campgrounds and allow services such as Wi-Fi and food trucks, in addition to other commercialized services, at national park campgrounds.
  • Ø  “The recommendations put forward by the ‘Made in America’ Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee to privatize national park campgrounds are an ill-advised and self-serving nod to business interests,” says Phil Francis, chair of the Coalition to Protect America’s National parks.
  • Ø  In addition, these suggested initiatives will increase noise pollution and crowding at locations where visitors often go to get away from the trappings of everyday life. Truly, they represent a threat to the visitor experience at national parks.”

Like many people who value experiences that national parks afford, I worry that money talks too loud in the backrooms of our nation’s capital, not to mention the west wing of the White House.

Speaking of Presidents, remember Theodore Roosevelt? Among his greatest achievements (aside from serving as our 26th President from 1901-1909) was signing legislation to create five national parks.

As a staunch conservationist, he signed into law the Antiquities Act of 1906, which helped establish national monuments to protect archaeological sites for cultural and scientific reasons on our public lands.

Roosevelt also believed that big business was an integral part of the American economy. And yet, he wrote:

 “I believe we are past the stage of national existence when we could look on complacently at the individual who skinned the land and was content for three years’ profit for himself to leave a desert for the children who were to inherit the soil…”

Absurd as it may sound, the prospect of destroying our national parks in the name of capitalism looks all too likely.

I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if one day soon we’ll see Rocky Mountain National Park rangers behind the bar at Kawuneeche Visitor Center. They’ll be sporting ugly bowties, telling bad jokes and pouring Coors from the tap.