*Note: light to moderate swearing ahead.
The Good and The Bad
Hikers, runners, and backpackers are all a bit masochistic. We kinda like the suffering. Well, I guess I do at any rate. If you've completed a trail that's over the, oh let's say, 5 mile mark- you've probably broken at least a sweat and made your way past the "drive-thru" park visitors that are there just for the social media check-in cred. So you've worked for it a little bit. You're probably not doing it to just hashtag the hell out of the act. There's always some kind of duality that comes with being on the trail, the good, and the bad. And depending on how long your hike is and how good your shoes are, the ugly.
The good! The bad.
The vistas! The bugs.
Being a small percent of the population that has "done it"! The hundreds of training hours.
Pushing your limits! Pushing your limits.
Post trail steak dinner! No ice cream for two months before trip.
Seeing wildlife! SEEING ALARMING WILDLIFE.
But it's this dichotomy that brings us back time after time. There's something to be said for having to endure a little pain and discomfort in order to get that goody of seeing a sunrise from a hard won vantage point. Cracking open your summit soda/beer and basking in the accomplishment of what you did, immersed in the beauty that surrounds you..... sure does beat anything back at camp and the low hanging fruit of seeing stuff from the car. But you must have a respect for the outdoors and nature that comes with these excursions. The trail can have other plans for you, poor weather can whip up, roaming critters may cross your path, or you may eat and drink something that makes your sick for hours while you try and get back home. But all the way you are hopefully enjoying a majority of the experience while absorbing new sights.
My husband and I train hard for our adventures. Right now we are training for a trip out west where we will off-road, hike, camp, and backpack for about 2.5 weeks. This whole trip will culminate in an attempt at a non-stop Rim to Rim to Rim hike of the Grand Canyon in Grand Canyon National Park. Every week we clock in about 30 some odd miles of training interval hikes/runs to prepare to traverse 43 miles with 20,000' of elevation change across the canyon. It's hard work. But do you know what has my palms sweaty? Dealing with the other park visitors. The South Rim visitors stress. me. out. This is the dichotomy that has me worried now:
Sharing the trail with like-minded outdoors folks! Sharing the trail with folks who give zero fucks.
Thousands of hapless park visitors bumbling along with their phones in tow, Instagramming pictures (is that still a thing? Is there a new thing now? Am I out of touch already?) of their friends feeding ground squirrels an ice cream cone at the Bright Angel trailhead. Come. On.
Like me, you've probably seen the news stories that have been cropping up regarding our state and national parks, and it can really be distilled down to this: an escalation in park visitor self entitled bullshit. You probably heard about the tourists that put a baby bison in their car in Yellowstone "because it was cold". The instagram "artist" that defaced rocks across 7 national parks with her "art" and hashtags. The guy in Yellowstone that left the boardwalk and died by falling into a geyser. The three drunk idiots that broke into a restricted habitat and killed at least 1 out of 115 remaining Devils Hole pupfish left in the world in Death Valley. I could go on. For a lot longer than I would like. And I'm not even linking to the animal selfies that have gotten people killed and gored, because I don't want to encourage any more people into thinking that this is acceptable behavior. So what's going on?
Poor Yellowstone National Park has been putting up with the brunt of the bullshittery this year and it has gotten so bad that Yellowstone has hired a social scientist to study the human visitors of the park. Serious. That's happening, right now. Our collective behavior has gotten so poor that the park needed to hire a social scientist to try and figure out why we are behaving so badly. Are we just shitty? Or is the park missing out on teaching moments? Do we need to have some counselling sessions with the parks so we can tell them how, "they don't let us do anythiiiiiiiiiiing!". I'm curious as to what the data will turn up this season. Because my bet is on: 1) social media self involvement and, 2) ineffective enforcement of park rules and regulations.
And you know what? I'm sick of it. I'm so over it.
I'm getting ready to head back "up North" and show my husband where I took my first baby steps as a geologist. I want to photograph some of these special places from my past and try and capture some of that wonder I had as a freshmen geology student. Because you know, rocks are neat. But I know I really won't get to go back in time, because Pinterest is a thing now. And one of my favorite places which used to be a locals-only hang out now has at least a mile of overflow parking along side a farm road. It's a tiny little DNR run wilderness location with an easy little walk up to a gorge with waterfalls. And it's all over Pinterest. 10 Best Kept Secrets In Wisconsin! (#wisconsin #badgerstate #waterfall #naturephotographer #nalgenebottle #cup). Not anymore, but thanks Pinterest! This little place just can't handle the traffic. As a landscape photographer I've begun withholding location information on many of my photos, just so I'm not contributing to the abuse of natural areas via social media. Get yourself out there, folks. Check out books, park maps, whatever. But don't immediately check the hashtags to find the location that will yield you the image that will get you the most likes (#notgettingmylatlong). And if you are able bodied, don't just do the easiest thing. There's so much more to see beyond the 1 mile radius beyond your car. Because right now the parks are being loved and hashtagged to death, and with some of this new found love (I'm looking at you, "Find Your Park" 2016 centennial campaign) it's like a python squeezing the National Parks bunny to death.
I live very close to a small nature preserve where I hike and run almost every day. Last week my husband and I went for a run and every damn thing in the preserve was tagged. Tree leaves, the rusted out cisterns that once held our city water, rocks (!!!), and the paved trail all were tagged with blue spray paint. I'm surprised the box turtle that always hangs out at about the half mile mark wasn't tagged blue on his shell. This is a park that I have taken senior portraits in, family pictures, and even an award winning nature photo. And now this place is marred because of one person. My park. Our park. And I'm pretty sure you would be unhappy if I went and tagged your garage. Just like how you should be unhappy someone tagged your public land. Because it's our land, and we should be treating it respectfully.
So I'm done. I'm done being a nice hiker and ignoring people being dumb. Homeland Security has a slogan, "If you see something, say something". And you better believe it that I'm going to start saying something. Do you see someone treating your parks inappropriately? Stepping off trail? Feeding wildlife? Getting too close to wildlife? SAY SOMETHING. Tell a park official. Tell law enforcement. Tell the parents. Tell the offender! Keep everyone and yourself accountable. Our public lands are too fragile and can't keep pace with this kind of passive-half-attentive-visitor. Take pride and ownership for what is ours.
Tonight I'm headed to my little preserve. I'm going to do my run. And then I'm taking pictures. I'm taking pictures of every bit of graffiti I can find and sending it local law enforcement (#Iknowaguy) and posting it to my local social media pages. Because we all need to do what we can to keep our parks happy.