In 1998, Congress, in its infinite wisdom, passed the National Park Service Concessions Management Improvement Act which was intended to open up the bidding process for national park concessions and make them more competitive. At the present time there are about 600 concession contracts at 120 national park units.
While national parks are public lands, the government has traditionally given concessions to private enterprise to operate the tourist facilities-hotels, gift shops, restaurants, transportation, campground management. The concession contract for Glacier National Park in Montana is currently up for bid. According to Tristan Scott:
Prospective bidders vying for the 16-year prospectus contract, a venture that involves managing the park’s five historic lodging facilities, its food and beverage services and its retail operations, must commit a mountain of money in initial investments alone – $33 million – and will face a future rife with financial risk and costly maintenance projects due to senescent buildings and crumbling infrastructure.
One of the companies which may be bidding for the contract is an oil and gas company which is engaged in fracking operations on the park’s eastern boundary.
The new concession contract will go into effect on January 1, 2014. Proposal are due on March 14, 2013.
The Blackfeet Reservation:
The Blackfeet Reservation’s western boundary forms the eastern boundary of Glacier National Park. In 2006, the Blackfoot Tribal Business Council granted oil exploration and fracking leases on the western edge of the reservation to the Denver-Based Anshutz Exploration Corp, owned by Philip Frederick Anshutz, one of the richest men in the nation. Many tribal members are concerned about the impact of Anshultz’s operations on the natural resources, including clean water. Anshutz has refused to conduct a cumulative environmental assessment, something that is of great concern to officials in Glacier National Park and the National Parks Conservation Association.
Opposition to Anshutz and to fracking on the reservation has resulted in the formation of the Blackfeet Anti-Fracking Coalition on Facebook. The Facebook group was started by Destini Vaile, a Blackfeet tribal member who has studied the fracking process and opposed full-field development on the reservation.
Dave Beck, the chair of the Native American Studies program at the University of Montana, said:
“Fracking has become a very contentious issue for the Blackfeet. The question is how to balance cultural preservation, environmental protection and economic development, and I think that is really what tribes everywhere are trying to deal with right now.”
When Congress created Glacier National Park in 1910, they did not allocate any money for the development of tourist facilities in the park. The bill that created the park had been promoted and influenced by Louis Hill, president of the Great Northern Railway and son of James J. Hill. The southern boundary of the park is the railroad.
Having helped create Glacier National Park, Hill set out to create within the park a tourist facility for wealthy easterners who would ride his railroad to the park. Since Glacier’s mountains looked somewhat similar to the Swiss Alps, Hill envisioned the park as America’s Swiss Alps which would draw the wealthy tourists who had traditionally vacationed in Europe. Between 1910 and 1930, Hill commissioned the construction of nine Swiss-style chalets to be built in and around the park.
Lake McDonald Lodge is shown above.
The Great Northern Railway laid out and built most of the early roads and trails in the park. In 1914 Hill made arrangements with the White Motor Company to provide bus services in the park and the following year White Motor Company formed the Glacier Park Transportation Company to operate the buses.
By 1917, the Great Northern Railway had spent more money than the government-about twice as much-in developing Glacier National Park.
In the decades that followed, the National Park Service relied on private enterprise to build, maintain, and promote Glacier’s tourism. In exchange, the company that held the concession received exclusive rights to the tourist business within the park.
At the present time, Glacier Park’s private lodging concession is held by Glacier Park Inc (GPI), but their contract has expired and has been opened for bids. GPI has an estimated $22 million in possessory interest in Glacier Park and operates properties outside of the park, including The Lodge at St. Mary, Glacier Park Lodge in East Glacier, and Grouse Mountain Lodge in Whitefish.
One of the companies looking at bidding on the concession for Glacier National Park is Xanterra, which currently holds the concession for Yellowstone National Park. Xanterra is owned by Philip Frederick Anshutz who made his fortunes in oil, railroads, telecom, and entertainment. Anshutz purchased Xanterra in 2008.
Tristan Scott reports of Anshutz:
He is a Republican Party donor and supporter of numerous religious and conservative causes, and helped fund a 1992 Colorado ballot initiative designed to overturn local and state laws prohibiting discrimination against people on the basis of their sexual orientation.
With regard to the environment, the Xanterra website states:
Xanterra’s vision is simple: provide quality services to visitors to our parks and resorts in the most sustainable ways possible. Our 2015 Environmental Vision goals guide all Xanterra employees in our quest to become the most environmentally responsible company possible – protecting our country’s national and state parks along the way.