Open Space is Not Advertising Space

April 10, 1994

"This scenic view is brought to you as a public service by Acme Conglomerates Inc.," reads the sign by the waterfall.

"You are hiking a nature trail maintained by the friendly folks at Slurpy Slush Drive-In," informs a placard nailed to a tree.

These are potential signs in state parks we can do without. Selling corporate sponsorship of these areas to make up for deficits is short-sighted management and devalues this unique public resource.

Marketing advertising space in public preserves has become a disturbing priority of the Department of Natural Resources, which manages 47 state parks and forests. A staff position has been created to solicit corporate sponsorships.

"We feel what we have to offer is 9 million to 10 million state park visitors a year -- it's an excellent target market for businesses who want to reach people who love the outdoors," said Helene Tenner, parks public participation coordinator.

"People aren't used to state parks being run like a business. A large part of this is educating the public," added a manager of Sandy Point State Park. Using park rangers to advertise a similarly named vehicle is another money-making DNR idea.

Marylanders already help the parks system hold down expenses. Visitors pay admission fees, fund-raising festivals are held regularly, volunteers pitch in for maintenance work and staff information centers. Trash collection has been cut back as visitors are told to haul out their own refuse.

Civic-minded businesses can contribute positively to the park experience without over-commercialization: printing park information brochures, constructing playgrounds, employee clean-up projects are examples. The Maryland State Park Foundation, which accepts private donations to support the system, is another acceptable channel.

But there must be strict limits to prevent commercial exploitation of our priceless outdoors heritage. Ads placed on park lands breach that limit.

The principal responsibility for maintenance of state open space and recreation facilities must remain in public hands, financed by public resources, and not sold to advertisers. People value parks and forests as refuges from the commercial-driven hustle of the workaday world, not as just another marketing opportunity.

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