Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) today sent a letter to the National Park Service (NPS) Regional Director, Michael Reynolds, urging the NPS to enter into a cooperative management agreement with the State of South Dakota or a concession contract with a private campground operator to manage Wind Cave National Park’s Elk Mountain Campground.
Thune’s letter outlines the benefits of the State of South Dakota operating the Elk Mountain Campground. The campground is located close to Custer State Park, and a cooperative agreement may lead to additional cost savings and efficient management of the campground, saving taxpayer dollars and generating additional revenue. Additionally, while the majority of campgrounds on federal Forest Service land are managed by private businesses, only a small percentage of campgrounds in national parks are similarly managed. Concessions contracts with private operators can save taxpayer dollars and improve the park experience for all visitors.
“We need a smaller, smarter federal government,” said Thune. “The NPS working with states and private companies to manage campgrounds in national parks is one example of how to improve the efficiency of the NPS and save taxpayer dollars, while improving the park experience.”
Senator Thune previously contacted the NPS on March 11, 2013, about the agency’s decision to close the Elk Mountain Campground following the implementation of sequestration. Senator Thune raised concerns in his letter that the decision to close the campground was just one of many of the administration’s politically-calculated cuts. Governor Dennis Daugaard followed up with a letter to the NPS offering that the state Game, Fish, and Parks would be willing to operate the campground this coming tourist season, noting that he believes the state could do so at a profit.
The text of the Senator’s letter follows:
April 11, 2013
Midwest National Park Region
601 Riverfront Drive
Omaha, NE 68102-4226
Dear Regional Director Reynolds:
As a follow up to my March 11 letter regarding the closure of the Elk Mountain Campground at the Wind Cave National Park, I write to encourage you to explore alternative measures to operate the campground this year and beyond. I believe that working together with the State of South Dakota and private campground operators we can find a way to reopen the campground while saving taxpayer dollars.
As stated before, sequestration has forced all agencies and departments to make tough choices. In fact, there are a number of national parks across the country that are not only closing campgrounds, but also reducing visitor services and delaying park openings. I appreciate the tough decisions the National Park Service (NPS) has made to save taxpayer dollars and comply with the Budget Control Act.
That said, there are options available to the NPS to both save taxpayer dollars and keep the Elk Mountain Campground open. I respectfully request that the Midwest NPS region pursue a cooperative management agreement between the NPS and the State of South Dakota pursuant to 16 USC § 1a-2. I believe a joint effort between the NPS and the State of South Dakota would allow the campground to reopen this summer. In addition, due to the Elk Mountain Campground’s close proximity to the Custer State Park, a cooperative agreement may lead to additional cost savings and efficient management of the campground.
Additionally, I request that the NPS consider a concessioner contract with a private company to manage the campground in the coming years. As you know, contracting with private concessioners is a common practice for campgrounds on NPS and U.S. Forest Service land, and I believe if this practice were more broadly applied to NPS campgrounds both taxpayers and park visitors would benefit.
Since part of the NPS mission is to provide for the public enjoyment of our national parks, a cooperative agreement with the State of South Dakota or a concessioner contract with a private campground management company would allow the NPS to fulfill its obligation to the public, while also efficiently managing the campground. Thank you for your consideration, and I look forward to your response to my request.
Senator John Thune