The Walt Disney Co. is a major force behind the U.S. Forest Service's Adventure Pass program and the nationwide Recreational Fee Demonstration Program. It's likely that Disney is calling the shots in the attempt to commercialize America's public lands, as promoted by the American Recreation Coalition (ARC) and its sister organization, the Recreation Roundtable.
The ARC has stated 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 vice president of environmental policy, is on the board of the ARC. The Recreation Roundtable, formed in 1989, is a group of about 20 recreation corporation chief executives who claim responsibility for the Recreational Fee Demonstration Program, referring to it as "the direct result of our efforts."
ARC testimony to 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." (The Enterprise Forest is U.S. Forest Service marketing-speak for the four Southern California national forests that are included in the Adventure Pass program.)
Disney also has a memorandum of understanding with the Forest Service and six other federal public lands agencies. The document describes Disney as "a diversified international entertainment company with operations in the following businesses: theme parks and resorts, film entertainment and consumer products." Which of these businesses does Disney hope to establish on America's public lands? Theme parks? Resorts? Why else would this relationship even exist?
[Derrick Crandall, executive vice president of the Recreation Roundtable, has told The Times that such claims "have no logic whatsoever" and that the group is interested only in improving the conditions of the forests.]
When a major corporation pushes so hard for private sector involvement in the future of America's public lands, the stakes must be extraordinarily high.
Disney shapes public lands policy in America through the annual Partners Outdoors meetings, held at Walt Disney World in Florida each winter. Dick Nunis, then-chairman of the Recreation Roundtable as well as chairman of Walt Disney Attractions, invited public lands agency staff and corporate recreation representatives to the first meeting in 1992.
Partners Outdoors information received under the Freedom of Information Act lists the Recreational Fee Demonstration Program as one of "the major outgrowths of past Partners Outdoors sessions."
The January 1998 Partners Outdoors program opened with an excursion to Disney University for a "session on Walt Disney World's cast-training program, especially the means used to introduce and reinforce an appreciation of the company's corporate culture."
Last week, Disney's senior counsel in Burbank sent a cease and desist letter to fee opponent Scott Silver of Wild Wilderness in Oregon, demanding that his organization stop using what Disney regards as an infringement of its trademark--"The Wonderful World of Wreckreation."
The risk for Disney is that their carefully laid plans will unravel--or, worse, backfire--leaving a nasty, indelible stain on Disney's squeaky clean image. At stake is fully one-third of the continental United States, public lands that will require fees if the Recreational Fee Demonstration Program, which has not been debated by Congress, is made permanent in 2000. What a disastrous start to the millennium that would be!