Law, Regulation, and Policy

The National Park Service was established in 1916 with the passage of the National Park Service Organic Act. The Act defined the mission of the NPS "...to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such a manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations." Safeguarding resources thus became the paramount concern for the NPS and has since been balanced with the need to provide visitor services to ensure enjoyment by the public. It is from this original law that the NPS Commercial Services Program evolved.

Historically, concession contracts and operations were governed by the 1965 Concession Policy Act (Public Law 89-249). This law mandated numerous policies and procedures regarding concessions operations. In 1998-with the objective of improving concessions and increasing competition of contracts-Congress enacted the 1998 Concessions Management Improvement Act (Public Law 105-391). Some of the major changes incorporated into the 1998 Act include reduced preferential right situations, franchise fee distribution changes, new competitive bid requirements, and increased accountability and oversight.

The 1998 Act, as it is commonly referred, requires that contracts for visitor facilities and services "...be limited to those that are necessary and appropriate for public use and enjoyment..." of the national park area in which they are located, "... and that are consistent to the highest practicable degree with the preservation and conservation of the areas...". Title 36 of the Code of Federal Regulations (36 CFR 51) outlines the requirements for the preservation of the parks and administration of commercial service operations.

Advice on Concessions management in the National Park System is provided by the Concessions Management Advisory Board. Click here to learn more about the Board and view presentations of past meetings.

In order to implement the requirements of law, the National Park Service has in place a specific set of Management Policies that guide agency operations. These policies are an indispensable tool to help NPS employees manage parks responsibly and make rational, well-informed decisions. The general public may also refer to these policies to better understand how the NPS will meet its park management responsibilities under the 1916 NPS Organic Act. Chapter 10 of NPS Management Policies provides management guidance specific to commercial visitor services.

The preamble to NPS Management Policies for commercial services articulates the important alignment of the 1998 Act with the overall National Park Service Mission:

"The National Park Service will provide, through the use of concession contracts, commercial visitor services within the parks that are necessary and appropriate for visitor use and enjoyment. Concession operations will be consistent with the protection of park resources and values and demonstrate sound environmental management and stewardship." (NPS Management Policies, Chapter 10)