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National Parks, Incorporated

Public lands and private enterprise exist in an uncomfortable equilibrium. Since their founding, the national parks have embraced some forms of private enterprise, including privately-run accommodations, to bring members of the public to the parks to enjoy and appreciate their beauty. Corporations have provided financial support to the national parks through philanthropy. And private firms have benefitted from marketing their associations with the parks. Marketing campaigns that call on the feeling of being in the woods and philanthropy to the parks that may benefit corporations by association do not deplete resources or ruin aesthetic experiences like a strip mine would. Yet they nonetheless in some fashion dilute the essential publicness of the national parks. In debates over the purpose of public lands and the proper role of private enterprise within them, relationships between private firms and public lands in which the firms neither extract commodities from the parks nor physically harm them have not received sufficient attention. This Article makes three claims. First, as a descriptive matter, it identifies a set of non-extractive relationships between private firms and national parks as a distinct phenomenon. Second, as a normative matter, the Article argues that these relationships deserve greater attention in both policy and scholarship because they shed light on important questions about the significance of the public in national parks. Finally, as a prescriptive matter, the Article concludes that these non-extractive relationships between private firms and the national parks warrant clearer restrictions in government policy to preserve the essential publicness of these lands.