When Yosemite Hospitality, a branch of food-service giant Aramark, announced plans for a Starbucks inside the revamped Food Court at Yosemite Valley Lodge, park purists were up in arms. The Fresno Bee quotes a local who fears the intrusion of the global coffee giant could set off a wave of commercialization inside parks, and a change.org petition is already underway. Still, the marketing manager for the hospitality group tells the Bee plans for a Starbucks are underway, and that she’s confident it will be successful.
The Takeout staff had varying (strong) reactions to the announcement, so we’ll make our cases below.
As a big fan of our national parks systems, I find the idea of a Starbucks—or a McDonald’s or a Subway—in a national park unconscionable. John Muir is no doubt rolling over in his grave.
When I visit a national park, I want to feel transported. I want to experience some of America’s most incredible and fragile lands with as few distractions as possible. This is already becoming more difficult; on a visit to Glacier National Park this past summer, I was greeted by hours-long lines for shuttles and hikers blasting music on the Highline Loop.
I also feel that our national parks should be accessible, so I’m not opposed to visitors centers, wheelchair ramps, and spiffy bathrooms. But a Starbucks in Yosemite is a bridge too far.
National parks are not theme parks; they’re secularly spiritual places to detach from the 21st century. The more they resemble airports, the less they fulfill their mission of preserving America’s natural, biological, and cultural heritage. Food courts and restaurants and visitor center vending machines already exist at most national parks I’ve visited; do we really need to open the door to further corporatization?
Wallace Stegner called national parks “absolutely American, absolutely democratic; they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.” To me, a grande Cinnamon Dolce Latte cup discarded among the Sequoias doesn’t reflect our country at its best.
While I agree on principle that the idea of a Starbucks in our most sacred of natural spaces feels unseemly, as with all things—especially internet petitions—there’s a whiff of the overblown at work here.
Firstly, this idea (as the petition argues) the park will “lose its essence, making it hardly distinguishable from a chaotic and bustling commercial city,” that’s a fairly histrionic statement. The notion that you’re hiking to the base of Mt. Rainier and see a free-standing Starbucks hut with WiFi and charging stations—I don’t think we will ever live to see the day.
If you’ve ever been to a visitor’s center at a national park, the food service provided there (likely with some cutesy name such as “Grizzlies Cafe”) isn’t made by mom-n-pop cooks thoughtfully extracting sap from the nearby maple trees. It’s likely serviced by a multinational food corporation that’s also supplying to stadiums, hospitals, and prisons. So the idea of a Starbucks inside one of these centers doesn’t feel too unpalatable, though I concede it feels like a case-by-case thing. Starbucks? Maybe. Taco Bell? Wouldn’t feel right.