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The Disneyfication of Nature – Beware Corporate Predators In The Woods, Part 2

Disney has become intimately involved with public lands agencies and their policies. To begin to understand the nature of this shadowy relationship requires a trip to LobbyLand, in Washington DC.

Disney is by far the most powerful corporate entity in both the “American Recreation Coalition” (the ARC) and the “Recreation Roundtable,” two closely-related public lands lobby groups for the recreation industry. Following is a hint of what they have up their sleeve.

The ARC proudly states that “Recreation fees on public lands were one of the issues which prompted the creation of the American Recreation Coalition in 1979.” Kym Murphy, Disney’s Corporate VP of Environmental Policy, based in Burbank, sits currently on the ARC’s board of directors.

The Recreation Roundtable, formed in 1989, is a group of around 20 recreation corporate CEO’s, including Disney’s, who refer to the Recreation Fee Demo Program as “the direct result of our efforts.” The ARC and Recreation Roundtable share a Washington DC office, phone and fax, as well as staff.

What’s All The Fuss About?
Imagine your favorite lake, hidden at the end of a long washboarded road. Imagine what you are rewarded with when you get there....

Now, imagine that road paved, to facilitate easy RV and tourism access. RVers driving their half million dollar Beaver Coaches will not be satisfied with the primitive campground and pit toilets that are there today. They will want KOA style amenities, pull through lakeside camping pads, etc. Then they will want something to do while they are there. They will want a lodge at the lake. A marina with boat rentals. They will want to play golf .....

This is why ARC is promoting industrial strength recreation. They are first and foremost a lobby for the RV industry and need to create the attractions and provide the access necessary to create and sustain a thriving RV market. Disney and others will be the ones who will build the amenities on public lands to service not just the RVers but the tourists who will drive these newly paved roads to the newly built attractions. And the Forest Service will get all this for no cash expenditure of its own. On the contrary, in exchange for providing the business opportunity, proving a long term lease for the lands—and constructing the roads at taxpayer expense—they will get their small piece of the action, just like they do with ski resorts.

THIS is what all the fuss is about.

Prior to Fee Demo, the ability to charge recreation fees on public lands was very, very limited. We didn’t have fees, except for developed campgrounds, National Park entrances, and two or three other things, because the law prohibited it.

Fee Demo is a test to see how best to charge and collect user and recreation access fees for a much wider variety of goods and services than was ever permitted before. It is a program to see what the public is willing to pay for, to see how much they are willing to pay and to see how best to collect the money so as to not tick off the “customers.”

Fee Demo is the thin edge of the wedge. It makes it possible to sell “wreckreation.” But to make this all work out for ARC, additional legislation is needed to promote and permit this wider array of public-private partnerships.

Improving God’s Handiwork
Recent ARC testimony before Congress speaks of arranging “for top marketing and communications executives from Disney, REI and other companies to work with the Enterprise Forest fee team in the design and implementation of that project.” In case you don’t know, the Enterprise Forest is US Forest Service marketing-speak for the four Southern California National Forests that comprise the “Adventure Pass” program. (We need an “Adventure Pass” to access our national forest? Sounds suspiciously like Disneyspeak).

Disney’s “Memorandum of Understanding” with the US Forest Service and with six other federal public lands agencies, dated 1995, describes Disney as a “diversified international entertainment company with operations in the following businesses—theme parks/resorts, film entertainment and consumer products.” The stated purpose of the Memorandum is to “work together in partnerships on issues of common interest.”