This year’s George Wright Society conference was held in Oakland, California on the heels of a meeting jointly hosted by the National Park Service and the National Geographic Society in Berkeley, California. It also coincided with the 100th anniversary of a historic meeting organized by Stephen H. Mather and Horace Albright which led to the establishment of the National Park Service (NPS) in 1916. Stephen Mather served as the National Park Service’s first director and it was under his leadership, with NPS oversight, that concessions began in the national parks.
The NPS/NGS meeting focused on promoting scientific research within protected areas to gain an understanding of how to best promote perseveration and resiliency of the natural landscapes. The themes at the GWS biennial conference on parks, protected areas, and cultural sites focused on parks as a prescription for better health and well-being. The prevailing idea on how best to keep our parks healthy was to ensure national parks remain relevant and visited by people. Central to these themes are concessions. Commercial services in parks play a key role in managing the visiting public and helping to preserve and protect natural and cultural resources. At GWS, the NPS commercial services program presented a panel dedicated to highlighting the impressive work throughout our national parks. Representatives from the program spoke about the broad range of programs and initiatives concessioners are implementing, and how these programs impact the parks they operate in as well as the NPS at large. Kurt Rausch, Branch Chief of Contract Management with the WASO Commercial Services Program, and Trystan Stern, Regional Concessions Chief for the Pacific West Region, highlighted concessions operations Service wide. They discussed how front country operations such as hotels and restaurants implement energy and water conservation measures, solid waste reduction, healthy and sustainable food options. They also discussed backcountry operations and the exciting innovations these concessions operations have introduced to minimize human impacts to the most secluded places in our national parks. The panel was rounded out by three representatives from the concessions community.
George Wendt, President and Founder of O.A.R.S., represented river-rafting concessioners, highlighting progress made over the years in river preservation. He explained how the rafting community supports this ethic through visitor education and implementation of Leave No Trace practices. Mr. Wendt shared some NPS rafting community initiatives, including opposition to housing projects planned downstream to several major rivers running thorough western national parks, and work done to develop and implement the first electric outboard rafts.
Mr. Brian Stewart, Vice President at Hornblower Companies, shared success stories of the world’s first hybrid ferry used at Golden Gate National Recreation Area to shuttle visitors to Alcatraz Island. In 2009, Hornblower was awarded the Alcatraz contract and shortly after they put the hybrid ferry into use. The ferry was the first and only hybrid in existence. Now there are over eight hybrid ferries being used by Hornblower in their NPS operations.
Finally, Deborah Duck, General Manager at Muir Wood Trading Post, spoke of how Ortega National Parks implemented the most ambitious sustainable food menu at Muir Woods National Park. When the Muir Wood contract was developed, competed, and awarded, the requirements for local sourcing of food were most stringent, and they continue to be progressive throughout the Service.
All three concession representatives shared challenges and successes in implementing these initiatives, and these examples are but a sampling of the greater progress that concessions operations have made in parks nationwide.
"Scenery is a hollow enjoyment to the tourist who sets out in the morning after an indigestible breakfast and a fitful night's sleep on an impossible bed." Stephen T. Mather, first Director of the National Park Service