Thursday, October 4, 2018

Encroaching Enochlophobia - a troubling future for wilderness



It is no secret that the woods and mountains are not so wonderfully lonesome as they once were. National Parks get all the press for excessive overcrowding, but the sad fact is that solitude is becoming a decidedly rare commodity practically everywhere. You may well point out that you can still get away from people if you seek out relatively unknown trails and travel in the off season in poor weather in the middle of the week. This is true, but for how much longer?



This week’s Nature Writing Challenge asked the question of how your experience on public lands has changed in the past 15 years. For me the greatest changes have had to do with the number of people I encounter and the speed at which they move. In the “good old days” (waaaay back in the early 2000’s) people knew how to stop and smell the roses - but now it seems that too many have failed to learn that it’s the journey and not the destination that’s important. Furthermore, too many people seem utilize our spectacular wild places for pure exercise - as a backdrop for a workout. Others use them as a roller coaster track for their pedal powered devices so accurately termed by the great author Harvey Manning as “The Silent Menace”.  It used to be that simply travelling farther into the wilderness was a surefire way to leave the crowds behind, but no longer.

With an ever expanding global population, there will likely come a day, 15 years hence, when I will look back on 2018 with fondness for the relative solitude we can still enjoy today. If trends continue unaltered, the quiet trails of today may well resemble more the conga line that is the route up half dome in Yosemite, or the flower trails of Paradise. There are no easy answers, no convenient solutions.

The best we can do as individuals is to limit our own impact by practicing leave no trace ethics and by generally travelling in a manner and at a pace that shows the proper respect to our public lands and to our fellow travelers. We can also work towards larger, long term solutions, such as acquiring private land for preservation and conversion into new and expanded parks. It would also help if mechanized vehicles were further restricted - bikes don’t belong on hiking trails, and by making more trails hiking only we can reduce the impact caused by ever increasing levels of visitation.

Finally, there is the root cause of overcrowding to be addressed, and that is the general overcrowding of our planet. To be honest, overcrowded trails are but one of the more minor side effects of overpopulation in comparison with other, far more serious implications. There are few issues that would not at least be improved with strict regulations on population growth.

I love our public lands, but so do many, many other people, and unfortunately the sad truth of the matter is that we are loving them to death. However, the paradox is that people need to visit public lands in order to inspire in our society the drive to protect those lands and the rest of Earth’s delicate ecosystem. We must all therefore strive to be good stewards for public lands, and pay for the damage we cause by lending our voice to the creatures and places of this world that cannot speak for themselves.

Travel lightly, speak up for the land, and remember to smell the roses.


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Written in one hour for the #NatureWritingChallenge

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