An Experience with a Private Park

As part of our trip to Sacramento, Shauna and I took a one-night getaway to Monterey for our anniversary. As part of that, we did 17 Mile Drive, a scenic trip down the coast that takes you through beaches, cliffs, and forests to some truly incredible views. This picturesque road winds through a large privately-owned neighborhood and golf course complex. I couldn’t help at be struck by how well a private park was run compared to public parks.

Just like a public park, there was a fee for entry. It was about on-par with what I’ve come to expect to pay at places like Zion National Park and Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada. Just like a public park, there were informative maps and signs pointing out places of interest. Just like a public park, anyone could come and enjoy the views, have a picnic on the beach, or take pictures of the varied wildlife. Just like a public park, wildlife is strongly protected with special barriers in place to protect seal pups during the birthing period. Other than the manicured golf courses and outrageously expensive houses, it didn’t feel all that different from any national park.

I did notice, however, that the incentive for keeping the land in great condition is much stronger. I don’t recall having seen any litter along the way. Even though there were a number of Spring Break tourists, the park never felt crowded and parking was never an issue. This was in stark contrast to how backed-up traffic gets in national parks during busy seasons. The private company administering that land knew that if they screwed it up, residents would pack up and tourists would stop paying $9.25 to see it. In short, there’s an incentive to keep things nice beyond the goodness of their collective heart.

As public parks suffer from overcrowding, intense federal politicization, ever-increasing entry fees, and underpaid staff, I’m left wondering if considering some kind of privatization wouldn’t be a half-bad idea. If its done like 17 Mile Drive, I don’t think we’d be giving anything up.

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2 Responses to An Experience with a Private Park

  1. Reach Upward says:

    The difference is ownership. Having private companies run government owned lands and facilities sometimes works better than just having the government do it. Other times, it amounts to little more than private entities living off the gravy train of public funding. But if you really want overall general improvement, it’s got to be privately owned. Ownership creates incentives in ways that tenantship never can.

    But the American public would never accept private ownership of its national parks, monuments, etc. They would insist on having political control over the mission and acceptable uses of these resources. This would prevent private entities from making them adequately profitable, so it won’t happen.

    Besides, collectivists will argue that it is a good thing to have public lands that aren’t subject to profitability requirements. They consider the tragedy of the commons an acceptable tradeoff to maintain political control over these resources.

  2. Abu Ute says:

    Ah, 17 Mile Drive! When I was attending the Naval Postgraduate School in the mid-80’s I lived in a bungalow at the Pacific Grove entrance to the park. One weekend I bought a 10-speed bike (this was before mountain bikes were invented) and decided it would be neat to break it in by riding the entire drive. So I did.

    But I could not walk normally nor sit for about two weeks afterward.

    Still, it was a beautiful park, and almost worth the pain!

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