Zinke proposes private ownership for national park campgrounds


KALISPELL, Mont. - Secretary of the Interior and Montana native Ryan Zinke is proposing that private companies play a larger role in national park campgrounds.

Zinke says it will be in an effort to help pay for over $11.331 billion (as of Sept. 2016) in deferred park maintenance.

Zinke grew up in Whitefish, just a few miles from Glacier National Park. Currently, Glacier alone has $150 million of deferred maintenance, and that's $30 million less than last year's total.

NBC Montana caught up with camper Jackson Gabriel. He believes privatization would significantly limit access to national park campgrounds.

"They belong to all of us," said Gabriel. "They belong to every citizen of this country."

Gabriel and his wife traveled over 1,000 miles to honeymoon under Montana's big sky in Glacier Park.

American Outdoor Coalition president Derrick Crandall has a different take. "What Zinke is talking about is encouraging investments in those campgrounds to do more than just keep the ship afloat."

Crandall said privatizing campgrounds would expand the park to a broader base of visitors. He believes concessionaires would invest in the parks.

Zinke's privatization suggestion comes after showing support for President Donald Trump's budget proposal, which cuts 13 percent from the Interior Department's budget.

Under Trump's plan the Park Service would cut staff by 6 percent.

Critics question the cuts, which come at a time visitors are showing up in record numbers.

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