I consider myself a big proponent of encouraging people to get outside and enjoy nature. It is good for us. It teaches us things. It slows us down and we build better connections. One great place to experience this is at our National Parks. Yosemite was our first national park and Yellowstone was the first national park with Park Rangers. Our park Ranger program has been exported all over the world and we are the folks people look to when creating a ranger program for their parks. That is pretty special. This year we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of our National Park System and it has had a great run so far.
America’s National Parks are special because they belong to all of her people. This however, doesn’t give any one person any real ownership or right to do whatever they want to the parks. They belong to all of us so we may see what nature still looks like as we pave over everything in our cities. They belong to all of us so we can get out, unplug, and slow down. They remind us where we come from. They teach us and show us things we can’t see at home: wild flowers, wild animals, wild rivers, and wild landscapes. They belong to us so we must take care of them. More people are getting out to experience these things and that is wonderful, but…
I have been seeing ever increasing news stories about people destroying things and it is really upsetting to me. The big news stories about people “helping” a baby bison, or walking across the Grand Prismatic at Yellowstone, or Oregon students trashing Slauterhouse Island in Lake Shasta (this is a disgrace to my alma mater and all of her alumni and supporters), or people spray painting rocks in the Grand Canyon, or the endless selfies with animals, or people wanting to pet wild animals and are gored or trampled, to more local stories for us in Oregon where people are setting fire to the banks of the Columbia River and using the Deschutes and many other recreational areas as their own personal trash areas. Just yesterday a news story came out that a man fell into one of the hot springs at Yellowstone National Park (the Pork Chop Geyser in the Norris Basin area) and is presumed dead as they haven’t found him yet. This is breaking my heart and I am flat out angry now. Please excuse my rant, but seriously….
What is going on? Why is this happening?
I hardly think that President Teddy Roosevelt, upon declaring these lands as preserves to save them for all time imagined a group of people acting in such a way that we have to kill off the very things we are trying to save “for the safety of man”. It is possible to visit these amazing National Parks with out destroying everything. And you can survive your visit. We have done it many times. You have to follow the rules. They aren’t meant for other people – they are meant for ALL people.
Let me put something in perspective for you. When people travel to Europe one of the main things they go to see in the big cities are the cathedrals. They are epic and gorgeous. They are historic and amazing testaments to what man can build. As I walk through I turn my flash off so I don’t ruin the amazing paintings. I seldom sit in the pews and I would never think to carve my name in them. I don’t carry spray paint to leave “I WAS HERE” on the wall. I would never in a million years scratch my name into the floor. I take my pictures, smell, feel, and stand in awe. And then I leave. Nobody knows I was even there unless they see me on CCTV or see my pictures. That is how it should be everywhere. I leave no trace. As we use our parks we should also leave no trace.
The American National Parks are our “cathedrals”. People come from far and wide to experience wild places because most of us live in vast cities completely void of true nature. When you visit these wild spaces you are going to see animals doing what animals do, including mating, killing, giving birth, abandoning, eating, and living their lives as they have done since they started walking our earth. The circle of life is a real thing. They are not there for your entertainment. You are stepping into their home. Your interference is getting them killed. The trees grow there and often have for centuries. They do not need their bark stripped for your souvenirs or your name engraved in them. The seed was planted so many generations back in your family you likely don’t even know that ancestor’s name. The sequoias bark is so special and acts as a fire retardant saving the trees during forest fires and when you strip that off for your own selfishness, you put them at risk. Your interference is killing them. The rocks have been there for millenniums, long before humans walked the earth and they do not need to be painted or to have your name scratched into them. They are beautiful testaments to what the earth has endured through floods and earthquakes and drought. Your interference will last forever and ruin the experience for later visitors. The hot springs are such beautiful colors because of very delicate bacteria that grow in them. Your steps are killing the bacteria and the crust you are walking across is so thin you could easily fall through to your instant death.
A few things you can do to help:
- Read the park newspaper when you are handed one upon entering the park. All of the rules for the park are listed there. These rules are for your safety, for the safety of the flora and fauna and for the life of our National Parks. PLEASE FOLLOW THEM. The newspapers come in a variety of languages for the bigger parks, so if you need that, just ask. In fact, you can get the park newspapers before you go so you know which events are happening during your stay and you can read ahead so that you know the rules and can lay them out for your kids. Best to teach by example and we always find expectation setting to be a huge bonus. In fact, I am going to make it even easier for you – here is a link to the rules at Yellowstone.
- Report things when you see them. Don’t pack up that baby bison, leave it there and find a ranger to check it out. They are all over the place and know what to do. I took this picture in 2014 at Yellowstone from an appropriate distance (I LOVE zoom because you can get great pictures and stay safe) of this man who was WAY too close to this bison. We see this everywhere we have been actually – people too close to the animals. We were near a ranger station and we weren’t the only ones who reported him. As we were talking to the ranger another ranger pulled up and asked him to get back. So did other people. This keeps everyone safe, including that bison. The animals get to go wherever they want to. You are responsible to get out of the way. If you interfere that bison may gore you and then they have to kill the bison. It ruins a day/life for everyone.
- Give all animals space. Again. Seriously. SPACE. They don’t want you near them and it is safer for everyone if they don’t get acclimated to humans. You don’t need an “epic selfie” with a grizzly – in fact people are more likely to die from trying to take a selfie than most other ways. Plus you don’t want to turn your back on an animal that has huge horns. Bad idea. They don’t want to go viral, they want to be left to forage and live their lives. That life ends the second they feel threatened by you and take what they see as appropriate action. Do not approach bears or wolves on foot within 100 yards (91 m) or other wildlife within 25 yards (23 m). Bison require 300 feet. Binoculars and telephoto lenses do an amazing job of making them look up close. In my photo above I used a telephoto lens, was across a river and up an embankment and gave the animal plenty of space. I still have an amazing picture to share and everyone got out alive. We call that a win-win-win!
- Join a Jr. Ranger program. Seriously adults, these programs are not just for kids and you will learn a ton. You will learn about bison herds rejecting their young, and why certain animals do what they do. You will learn why Old Faithful erupts. You will learn about the bacteria that grows in the hot springs. They give great talks on various topics so you can learn even more about the park you are visiting. We highly recommend them. Plus, mom and dad, you can earn your own badges as well. There is no age limit here and your kids will think you are super smart! Visit the visitors centers and learn about the place too. There are some amazing things to be found.
- When a kid asks you not to do something that is against the rules don’t yell at him and just stop what you are doing. You are ruining the earth they are trying to protect. Don’t be so embarrassed you got caught breaking the rules by a 5 year old and take it out on him. He is trying to keep nature and you safe. He was taught how to behave in the park and it is on you that you are breaking the rules. This has happened to us and it isn’t fair to anyone. Just stop. Many of these kids are Jr. Rangers and know way more about things than you do. Maybe even try asking them some questions about why (be nice – human mama-bears are pretty fierce too, especially when their young are threatened and are right) and see if they can teach you something. These parks are places to learn and feel safe. Take responsibility for your actions, admit your fault and listen.
- When very clear and repeated signage says to stay on the boardwalks, just stay on the boardwalks. I don’t care if you have apparel to sell. There is no repairing the damage you are doing and they will arrest you. Plus, death – you don’t want it. Plus, warrants out for your arrest. I am just assuming you don’t want that either. In fact, staying on a trail is also part of the leave no trace philosophy and one we abide by. It is just good practice.
- Do not treat the National Parks as amusement parks or zoos. These are WILD places and need to stay as such. If you want an amusement park there are some really good ones with giant mice, or wizards, or cartoon characters. The San Diego Zoo is incredible as is our Oregon Zoo. There are places for that activity. This is nature and it is relying on you to respect it. Let’s keep WILD, wild!
Want more ideas and details? I love this author’s post about not being a “touron”. She worked at Yellowstone and gives first hand accounts at what she saw.
Nature will do just fine without our interference. It did far better before we started intervening, controlling populations, hunting, using it to make money, fur trade, etc. Nature belongs to all living organisms on this planet and people are treating nature so disrespectfully that I felt the need to do something outside of carrying trash bags with me on hikes and picking up garbage to pack out (which I do and would love if others helped me with this task…or even just packing your own garbage out would be a huge help). This is a plea to all people. We are loving nature to death and it is time to step back and take a look at our personal actions and of those around us and to make a change. I want these spaces to be here for at least another 100 years, if not forever. They are a gift from our ancestors, and will be a gift for our future generations. If you feel so inclined, please share this and other articles with people you know so we can get the word out and make it count!
Let’s get back to fun and campground, hiking and book reviews!