Four Ways To Really LOVE Your National Parks

Admittedly, my last post was a bit was of rant. Living and working near a national park, I see firsthand the catastrophic level of use and abuse these wondrous lands receive. And it makes me irate. (For those unfamiliar with the issue, check it out here and here).
Yet, rather than drivel on about the hegemonic industrial-consumer paradigm that is the basis of the problem (it is), I will spare you and offer up a few solutions. Cultivated out of experience and observation, this is my short list of actions individuals can take now to connect on a deeper level to their national parks to ultimately become their fierce protector.

  • Don’t go to them. I don’t mean this in a cynical, misanthropic sense-people should go out and experience the wild and rugged public lands of America. The problem is, national parks are neither wild nor rugged. You’re more likely to hear to the screeching of a car alarm over a screeching owl, or the depraved howling of drunks over the howling of a coyote.  Be creative and go somewhere off the beaten path. Take the Crooked Trail! While the Grand Canyon is epic, there are 6,223,221,336 people posting and posing at the South Rim. Meanwhile, hundreds of beautiful monuments, wildlife refuges BLM, Forest Service lands are awaiting the creative, intrepid and saavy traveler like yourself to explore. Try something new and give the parks a break.
  • Do your research. Visitor centers are wonderful resources, staffed with knowledgeable Park Rangers who are there to help. Yet, they are inundated with visitor questions that could have been answered with a 10 second google search or quick glance at a map. While most rangers will answer “where is the bathroom” or “how do I get to (insert most popular hiking trail here),” with a smile, they shouldn’t have to. Consider a visit to the parks an exercise in rugged self reliance. They are a place we can learn to be without, or get to know our higher, capable selves. Rangers have a litany of knowledge, allow them to astonish us. Ask them to identify a cool species of spider or the age of a rock formation.  If you’re already an expert park visitor, go deeper. Grab a topo map and hit the trail-less wilderness! A little preparation also prevents impulsive decision making that can be destructive to public lands.
  • Go alone.   Cities are for socializing, wilderness is for internalizing, so goes the motto I just made up. I know many will squirm at the idea of camping in the woods alone, with only the dubious grunts and howls of mysterious creatures lurking in the darkness to keep you company. Others may revel in the sense of of freedom and self-discovery solo travel can cultivate. I place myself in the 2nd camp. Something about being in the open air, with no external distractions is both terrifying and unbelievably magical. Your senses awaken-you notice every splash of flowing water, every hoot and whistle, every crunch of grass. The land comes of alive more fully when alone and in silence to hear it.  Yes, it fun to go on trips with your friends and family, but the level of connection you receive from the land alone is unsurpassed. If you can’t camp or backpack alone yet, just try out a day hike! Challenge yourself and push through your fears.  Of course, if you go solo always make sure someone knows where you are and when you’ll be back.
  • Be an advocate.  They need you. Despite overwhelming support and record number of visitors, budgets for public lands are stagnant and/or dwindling. Public lands once thought forever protected are in danger, just look at Grand Staircase Escalante and Bears Ears. Fossil fuel industry executives are salivating at the thought of mining, drilling and privatizing public land to fulfill their insatiable greed. As users of public lands, we have a responsibility to protect them. If every visitor contributed through time or money to a conservation agency, we would have unstoppable environmental progress.  I recommend finding a local organization in your area that also works in the political arena.  It’s also a great way to connect with other like-minded individuals and your community. In the Southwest, we have the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance who does amazing work. The Access Fund, Sierra Club, and the Center for Biological Diversity are wonderful organizations working diligently on a national level to protect our natural heritage.

Don’t just let public lands be a pretty  background for your Instagram feed. Take the time to connect to the land itself, find peace and solace from the burdens and incessant noise of all that ails you. Hear nothing but the sound of your breath colliding with wind. Address your fears. Then, with your new found vitality, become the lands’ fierce protector. The parks’ (and our) existence may depend on it.
I would love to hear your thoughts! What do you think we can do to protect our National Parks?

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