Has Leave No Trace Gone Too Far?

A few weeks ago we traveled to Utah to explore both Canyon Lands and Arches National Parks. Loaded up with backpacking and camping gear, plenty of trail snacks, sunscreen, and our dogs. We had high expectations for our tour of these magnificent areas and were ready to explore every nook and cranny we could in a week’s time. Only one problem, our dogs were not permitted on the trails and there is a strict “Do not touch” rule enforced in both parks.

I understand the need to preserve the formations from the hoards of visitors that could potentially damage them, as well as get themselves hurt. But come on, this is coming from an organization that does not have the best record for preserving the natural or man-made features in its own parks.

We are fortunate to have a kiddo that loves to be in nature and isn’t afraid to explore. I think too often, we as adults overtly and covertly send the message that kids should not be outside exploring. We are either too busy being stuck on the couch watching some mindless TV show, busy paying bills, or when outside overly consumed with harvesting our weekly crop of Bermuda grass. We don’t engage in the exploration of “cool stuff” in our own backyard.

To add to this, environmentalists and educators add to the problem by telling children, “You can look, but don’t touch”. While the green thinking do-gooders are busy protecting the natural environment they discount our children’s relationship with nature. It is this relationship that will foster respect and care for the environment as well as provide the financing, volunteer labor, and brain power to protect the environment in the future.

Our Moab trip was salvaged through our creative ability to find beautiful places outside the purview of the National Park system and explore areas that many tourist don’t see. We have found that if we can find a place that is more than 150 yards from a trail or road, that is accessible only by foot, then we usually have a wonderful spot we can call our own. It is amazing how few people will get away from the comfort of their vehicle. Somehow adventure has been boiled down to the number of pictures, postcards, and trinkets purchased at the gift shop.

Maybe the trouble with our National Parks is that they are too accessible. I don’t think we should cap the number of visitors to a park but instead, use a system of attrition. Go explore, go get sunburned, go off without enough water. If you die, you don’t get to come back.

The name “park” implies some sort of comfort level or right of safety. Last year when a friend was discussing her trip to Glacier National Park and how they had a Grizzly in their camp, another person in the conversation spoke up and asked how the Park Rangers manage to keep the bears out of the camp sites, and upon finding out they didn’t , immediately protested that it should be up to the park to keep control of its bears.

I like Edward Abbey’s idea that at each park, there should be a huge parking lot at the front entrance. Park your vehicle and then you can access the park anyway you like as long as it is human powered- feet, bike, trike, etc. If you don’t make it back, then you don’t get to buy a sticker for your water bottle or patch to sew on your new backpack. Thinking about it, maybe the parks the parks simply let the wrong people in and are setting themselves up for failure. Maybe there should be a few occasions that a few people who get way out of their safety zone should not make it back. It would certainly increase the due respect the outdoors should have. When in the wild- we are no longer on top of the food chain.

Be sure to checkout the podcast at http://www.adventureiq.libsyn.com or on iTunes by searching for “Adventure IQ”.

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