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.