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Outdoor Economy

Outdoor Entrepreneurs on Public Land: Risk, Reward, and Government Shutdown

A look into the benefits and history of public lands and national parks and the risks of doing business with the government

Public lands are incredibly valuable to the economy and often bring a sense of national pride and enjoyment. 48% of entrepreneurs surveyed by Small Business Majority agreed that access to public lands and other outdoor opportunities was a large reason why they live and do business in their state and “90% believe public spaces that draw tourists could boost business for local restaurants, hotels, grocery stores and more for drawing visitors”. There are many outdoor entrepreneurs who have carved out a successful niche tied to public lands that provides them with a prosperous and enjoyable lifestyle. Yet, there are also risks and sacrifice when your business is tied to land controlled by the government.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, there are over 6,555 national parks worldwide that are defined as: “conservation of wild nature for posterity and as a symbol of national pride”. The United States is a recognized leader in the history of preservation of public land starting with president Andrew Jackson signing legislation to protect the Arkansas Hot Springs in 1832, then President Abraham Lincoln signing the Yosemite Grant in 1864, and President Ulysses S. Grant signing legislation to establish Yellowstone National Park as the first internationally recognized National Park in the world in 1872. Later, Theodore Roosevelt greatly expanded land conservation by protecting more than 150 million acres of public land and establishing 5 national parks during his lifetime. The efforts of private citizens like Galen Clark and John Muir were instrumental in influencing government officials in order to make conservation legislation happen. Today, the United States has 401 sites and 84 million acres of land under the protection of the National Park Service. The majority of national parks provide outdoor recreation and environmental education opportunities for millions of visitors every year.

YosemiteOne of the most famous of these parks in the United States is Yosemite National Park. Yosemite was given it’s name in 1851 by Lafayette Bunnell, a doctor who spent time with indian hunters of the Mariposa Battalion and misunderstood “Yosemite” as the name of the Ahwahneechee tribe that the Battalion was searching for. “Yohhhe’meti” actually meant “they are killers” in the native language of the Ahwahneechee referring to the soldiers. In 1890, President Benjamin Harrison signed a law that protected 1500 acres in the Yosemite Valley. Thanks to an epic meeting between John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt in the Yosemite Valley in 1903, the protection was expanded to the surrounding mountains and eventually to the 761,268 acres protected in the park today.

 

Over 3.7 million people visit Yosemite each year to hike through the 800 miles of trails among the giant Seqouias, rock climb the granite boulders or 3300ft peak of El Capitan, ski through the majestic slopes in winter, or raft the Merced River. Many outdoor entrepreneurs, guides, and park rangers lead groups on various excursions through the park’s vast expanses of biodiversity.

On Yosemite’s 123rd birthday, all visitors are being sent home and businesses are being shut down. This is true for all the government run national parks and wildlife refuges across the United States. Over 21,379 National Park employees are being furloughed due to the government shutdown that happened October 1, 2013.

That is just one of the risks of doing business on public land.

It often takes a lot of work to wade through the bureaucracy in order to get a permit to provide a service in a national park or wildlife refuge. Permits can sometimes be granted through an application process. There are also opportunities to bid on government contracts in order to become a concessionaire. If one should become fortunate enough to win the bid, they must operate under the strict guidelines outlined in the contract. The benefits will sometimes result in the exclusive right to run certain trips and provide services on the land. This can be very rewarding and give access to places where others are forbidden. Some issues can arise from the strict scheduling, pricing, and numbers of clients that are allowed at one time. All of that needs to be taken into consideration before accepting the terms of the contract. I know many operators who have done very well providing ferry tours to national parks and wildlife refuges, although sometimes they are required to run regardless of the number of passengers.  They count on the times of plenty to make up for the slow times.  It can sometimes be a delicate balancing act.

There are many risks and rewards for doing business on public land. Any entrepreneur who is interested in going through the process must consider all the consequences before taking action. Try to go through every scenario and make a plan. Many things can affect your business that are beyond your control, even a government shutdown.

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