On August 25, 2016, the U.S. National Park Service will celebrate its 100th anniversary. One hundred years may not seem like a long time to our European friends, but for a country that’s a bit over 200 years old, having a system in place that safeguards the future of these amazing natural places is a good example of forward thinking.
Perhaps the most important challenge facing the U.S. National Park Service is how to balance the effort of bringing attention to the centennial anniversary while curbing the ever-growing human foot print on our national parks. It can be likened to someone who buys and expensive sports car but doesn’t allow anyone to ride in the passenger’s seat for fear that the seat may get torn or the floor mats will get dirty. How else can the owner show off his prized possession unless he allows someone to enjoy the ride?!
Of course, the sports car I’m referring to must accommodate 292,800,082 passengers! Per the NPS, that’s the total number of so-called “recreation visitors” to the national parks in 2014. Yikes!
First item in order is a brief history reminder: The National Park Service was “created by an act signed by President Woodrow Wilson on August 25, 1916. Yellowstone National Park was established by an Act signed by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872, as the nation’s first national park. View the National Park System timeline.” (quoted directly from: NPS Frequently Asked Questions & National Park Service Centennial)
A noble act by two US presidents that, whether or not politically motivated, helped, if not forced, future generations to appreciate that some places on this planet *must* be protected. Protected from what or whom? Well, if you’ve ever visited Yosemite National Park during any of the summer months the answer to that question is obvious: there are more cars on the roads of Yosemite at any given moment during the day than through the 5/Santa Ana Freeway! Of course, that’s hyperbole, but you probably get my point.
Approximately two decades ago an article in National Geographic showcased how park rangers in Yosemite were little more than police officers whose daily tasks included: arresting drunks, jailing sparring gang members and confiscating weapons, among the urban-related chaos. A far cry from the humdrum duties that ruled Ranger Smith’s day on the Yogi Bear Show.
A more recent article by NBC Bay Area, titled Drug Busts Going Up in Yosemite, had this to say: “The Investigative Unit has discovered Yosemite has the highest number of drug arrests and citations per 100,000 visitors when compared to other popular national parks. And for a park that’s about the size of Rhode Island, the majority of the crime takes place in a seven square mile area.”.
Yosemite’s problems cannot be extrapolated to the rest of the parks that comprise the U.S. National Park Service, yet each park face its own and unique challenges to accommodate the ever-expanding need for urbanites to visit the great outdoors. Take for instance my favorite national park, Rocky Mountain. A two and a half hour drive from my home, the park offers endless hiking opportunities in the back country. For those not familiar with the term ‘back country’, it’s synonymous with the ‘unbeaten path’, or ‘way out’ in the most remote areas of the park(sometimes crossing the very top of 12k+ foot peaks). Although in some cases the paths are quite beaten!
Which brings me to my next point…..
To what degree should the U.S. National Park Service limit entry into the parks; specially the back country? Currently, there is not limit – that I am aware of – on the number of hikers than can enter the park on any given day. The stipulations have been the same for many years: stay on marked trails, tread lightly and if you pack it in, you must pack it out.
The last point is the one I’d like to emphasize, namely: pack it in, pack it out. What does that mean to you and me as visitors to one of our great national parks? It’s simple: it means that we should NOT, under any circumstance, leave ANYTHING, ANYWHERE in the park that we brought with us to the park. (Of course, results of bodily functions don’t count, but even those have to be accounted for properly. There are plenty of out houses sprinkled throughout the parks and we should use those whenever possible).
Energy bar wrappers, papers(however small), plastic water bottles, cigarette butts, food waste such as orange skins, food excess such as leftovers from an overnight camping adventure or whatever else you can imagine, should NOT be left in the park.
National Park litter is a simple problem to solve: we need to bring a plastic bag, such as a Walmart shopping bag, or two, and use that to carry out our waste. I’ve hiked a few hundred miles over my lifetime and even during the most demanding and longest trips, such as multi-day winter backpacking/snowshoeing adventure, there was NEVER a case when we had to leave a single item behind. Not even the crust from our over-cooked breakfast bacon was dropped on the ground near our campsite. We carried the proper sized container/bag for the amount of stuff we consumed. Not rocket science!
“A tree-hugging fanatic”, you say! Not in the least. National parks should be pristine spaces where humans can unwind, relax, breathe the cleanest air possible and ponder the possibilities of a paradise Earth.
One way to ensure that our national parks are kept clean, safe and pristine is to donate to the National Park Service(NPS).
The following images are some of my favorite places in the U.S.A. Please click on any image for a larger version that will pop up in a separate browser session.
Cheers! ~ J.R. Fernandez, Colorado Springs, Colorado, February 11, 2016.