The United States’ National Parks are Under Attack

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I am a national park junkie in every sense of the word.  I have been to 41 National Parks and over 150 of the other National Park units.  My love of the national park system came at an early age.  I was to my first national park before I was a year old.  It is no secret that I love our national parks.  I am forever thankful for the efforts of early environmentalists.  Their tireless work saved many of these magnificent places from destruction.  The U.S. National Park system is often called ‘America’s Best Idea.’  I firmly believe this statement.  Over the last couple of years, I have realized out park system is under attack.

The American national parks are under attack. Our national park system has many threats, but its biggest threat is often overlooked by everyone.

I am not talking about the issues within the U.S. government or even the state vs. federal issues in the parks.

The national parks are under attack by the very visitors who come to enjoy them.

  • Leaving dirty diapers on the side of a trail in Pinnacles National Park.
  • Meeting 35 different dogs in a four‑day period in Crater Lake National Park and Kings Canyon National Park.
  • Climbing below the caldaria rim to take photos in Crater Lake National Park.
  • Thinking it’s funny that a raccoon is stealing food from your car in Pinnacles National Park
  • Declaring your love for your partner (or just your name) by carving it into the park in several national parks.

  • Approaching a bear to take a picture with it in Yellowstone National Park.
  • Throwing a rattlesnake into a creek in Kings Canyon National Park.
  • Feeding a cascade fox by throwing your sandwich out the window of your car in Mount Rainier National Park.
  • Illegally camping in Shenandoah National Park.
  • Walking thru delicate ecosystems in Rocky Mountains National Park.
  • Smoking in Smoky Mountains National Park (around their kids as well).
  • Feeding wildlife in most national parks.
  • Littering in almost every national park, I have visited.

I wish this was a list of things I had heard from other people.

It’s not.

It’s a list of things I have seen firsthand during my travels.  I am frustrated that these aren’t isolated incidents.  It is a disturbing trend that is seeming to get worse.  I feel like every couple of weeks there is a significant incident that makes the news, most recently the increased vandalism of Mesa Verde National Park.

These events make me sick to my stomach.

Our national parks have enough threats to them from the lack of funding to reduced government protections to environmental changes to invasive species.  We, as visitors, shouldn’t add to the problems.  These other threats will become non-issues if park visitors continue to harm the parks.

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Over the last two weekends, I realized that in many cases education isn’t the problem.  I make it a point to try and educated people about how their actions are affecting the parks.  I want to protect them as much as possible.  The National Park Service is underfunded and outmanned.  I have realized that a large part of the problem is people’s sheer lack of respect for the parks and the rules and regulations designed to protect them.  I spent the last two weekends in Kings Canyon National Park and Crater Lake National Park, respectively.  Over the four days, I saw 35 dogs on hiking trails.  Not one of them was on a dog-friendly trail.  Almost every owner had an excuse when I pointed out that dogs weren’t allowed on this trail.

Excuses I heard include:

  • “That’s a dumb rule.” – No, it’s not. It’s for the protection of wildlife and the park.
  • “What’s one dog on a trail?” – If you do, then someone else will think they can as well.
  • “Who cares!” – Those of us who want to protect the park.
  • “He doesn’t bite.” – Not the reason dog is allowed.
  • “I can’t leave him in the car.” – Then why did you bring him?
  • “It’s not causing any harm.” – Not that you can see, but he could carry diseases that could affect local wildlife populations.
  • And my personal favorite from the guy carrying his adult pit bull “He is a service dog.” – Then why are you carrying him and why isn’t he wearing his service vest.

Almost all of these dog owners was AWARE that their dog was on a trail that they were not allowed.  Those that weren’t had no excuse given the park newspaper, the park map, and the signs at the trailheads all clearly state this.

I think the #findyourpark campaign is both fantastic yet awful.

I love the increase in visitors to the national parks.  It is inspiring seeing kids get excited about our national parks.  I love watching people become stunned at the natural wonders of our parks. Increased awareness of these amazing protected environments is fantastic, but it seems to have a rather high price.

Simple actions such as following the park rules and regulations would prevent almost every negative incident, I have seen in a national park.  Don’t just walk by that piece of litter.  Stop and pick it up.  Don’t stand by while people harm the park; say something.

  • Read the park news paper for park restrictions.
  • Don’t just walk by that piece of litter.  Stop and pick it up.
  • Don’t leave food where animals can find it.
  • Don’t feed the animals.
  • Stay on the trails.
  • Don’t stand by while people harm the park; say something.

The national parks can’t speak for themselves, so we must be their advocates.

The American national parks are under attack. Our national park system has many threats, but its biggest threat is often overlooked by everyone.


38 thoughts on “The United States’ National Parks are Under Attack”

  1. Appreciate your brutal honesty. I believe most people are uninformed, or don’t think their actions have an impact. Of course there are always those that say “Who cares!”. Seems like we have seen an increase in tagging/carving on tress, rocks, etc. Wishing there was an easy fix. Articles like this one is a step in the right direction.

    1. I agree. I don’t think its uninformed. I think its I can’t be bothered to read signs or the information that is handed out upon entering the park.

  2. Totally agree that it’s such a double edged sword in terms of increasing numbers of visitors to National Parks. On one hand you want people to come and experience the beauty of these parks and HOPEFULLY gain an increased appreciation for environmental conservation. On the other hand sometimes there are so many muppets who come and mess it up for the others. Unfortunately I don’t think there is an easy answer to this but I do think there should be greater enforcement of rules such as no dogs. If someone brings a dog and their caught they should get a whopping fine! Anyway, I’m 100% with you on your rant!

    1. I think one summer the park service should just focus on enforcement. No warning, just an announcement that we are increasing enforcement and just issue fines. No warning. A solid summer of fines and people will follow the rules better.

  3. That is both appalling and not surprising, unfortunately. When I was in South East Asia, there was this news going around that people had killed a baby dolphin by picking it up to get a shot for Instagram. It’s hard to accept that other humans behave like this, and it’s even hard to try and put a stop to it 🙁

    1. I saw that and what is sad is I have seen articles about people doing that with dolphins, sharks, sea turtles. I love animal shots but I don’t want to harm the animal to get it. I have started blocking people I see doing that on instagram.

  4. I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to read your brutally honest post. I write this from my home, 20-minutes outside the park gates to Banff National Park in Canada. It’s a challenging issue to increase visitors (that’s Parks Canada’s goal) while still maintaining the environment and a quality visitor experience. If education isn’t working, park officials need to walk the talk and start fining. It seems only when people get a direct consequence for their actions that they change.

    1. I fully agree. Education only goes so far and to many people can’t be bothered. I can imagine Canada will have the same peoples (give some of my favorite idol park visitor news articles involve Canadians, bison calf in a car, anyone)

  5. The National Parks are indeed the jewels in the crown of the US. I have always read with wonder about the beauty of these parks and how the authorities are rendering yeoman service in preserving our natural environment. It is sad that people are not helping here and are instead making matters worse. It is the efforts of all stakeholders including visitors that are required to preserve and nurture our natural resources.

  6. Wow. I had no idea. How very sad. It’s funny that we travel to third world countries that sometimes don’t deal with rubbish and vandalism as we do but I wouldn’t expect that from the US, especially in a number of places. Such an interesting insight.

    1. I have come to expect that I will always have extra things in my pack that I have collected as I hike trails. I wish I didn’t expect this but I do.

  7. Thankyou for being an advocate for the proper and responsible enjoyment of the national parks – I agree, that with any attraction, and increase in human activity can do more harm than good. For this reason I actually enjoy America’s state parks so much more, because they see far less tourism and as a result are far better preserved, and make for a really immersive experience with nature. It’s appalling the behaviour people think is acceptable in an environment which has been declared protected. Hopefully we can spread enough awareness, and start shaming people we see not behaving in the right way so we can protect the national parks. Thanks for the post.

    1. I will be happy if this makes one person stop and think about what they are doing. I hate how we have such increased environmental awareness in our daily lives but it gets lost we start to travel.

  8. it never ceases to amaze me as to how inconsiderate people can be! sadly its not always possible to decipher who these people are and it would be so difficult to police everyone.

  9. We, too, love the national parks and take our kids often. Last summer we visited the Hawaii Volcano National park. I have seen the sad evidence you speak of. The craziest thing we saw was while hiking in a large group on the island in Yellowstone when a bear cub crossed our path. My husband and I both did a quick about face and headed back to avoid the momma bear. After a while of hiking on a different part of the path we came across a large gathering of people standing beneath a boulder calling to the cub on top so they could get a photo. I could hardly believe my eyes.

    1. I wish I wasn’t shocked by this story but I am not. It is truly tragic the damage people will do to get a photograph. I can only hope the parks can withstand the direct visitor assaults.

  10. Wow! you have made to so many national parks. That is simply amazing. The points you have laid in the post makes so much sense. National parks are highly reserved; protected environmental areas. We all should make efforts to preserve them and follow the prescribed rules and regulations.Thanks for sharing such a useful post.

  11. That is really cool that you have been to so many national parks. I have some traveling to them to do. That is sad though what people are doing to these parks. It is also amazing what someone would do just to get a photo, really, trying to take pic with a bear.

  12. It is very sad when people don’t take care of these beautiful lands that are here for people to enjoy and also help nurture. I certainly love them and try to help pick up trash and inform people who are there and breaking rules. People definitely need to follow rules and be good to these gorgeous parks. Great post from one national-park-lover to another.

    1. Yes, it is. I keep hoping things will improve but it doesn’t. We, other park visitors need to do more to help protect the parks.

  13. Thank you for being such a conscientious traveler and reminding all of us about the ways we can be, too. I’m fortunate to spend time regularly in some of Canada’s national parks and often witness many of the things you do, like feeding wildlife or trekking where you shouldn’t. It’s tragic to say the least.

  14. An interesting post. My pet peeves are people going too close to wildlife and dogs on trails that are not on leashes. A large dog charged my husband the other day as we were hiking. This doesn’t do the wildlife any good at all – nor us. Haha. I agree that we should treasure out parks.

    1. Dog on trails aren’t allowed (on most trails) even if they are leases. The approaching wildlife is the cause of most human wildlife problems and I hate that the animals are the ones to suffer.

  15. I too love the concept of National Parks. They are vital for survival of several species.
    I like the campaign started, we must try and stop damages made to national parks.

  16. I have to agree here, people just litter for no reason or maybe just convenience. They have become more ignorant and protecting naturr or parks have become a thing on social media to share. Sad though.

  17. I very much agree with you unfortunately it seems that those who don’t care won’t care regardless of where they are. As people who care we need to educate those who genuinely don’t know and keep advocating for one of the crowing achievements of America.

    1. I just wish there were more Rangers who could write tickets. I bet a summer or two of heavy enforcement would fix a lot of these issues.

  18. I know what you mean, it seems that the more “popular” the place is, the more damaged it gets. And the thing is that the very same visitors are usually “nature lovers”, but they confuse the concept so often. The tourism impact is the same all over the world, we’re gradually damaging our environment. And just look at it, such beautiful landscapes in your photos! 🙂

    1. I totally agree. I almost thing those “nature lovers” are the worst of the bunch. I have seen a ton of things I want to get off trail and photograph but I don’t because I don’t want to damage the park or encourage others.

  19. This is extremely annoying. I never understand why people are so hell bent on not following rules in the national parks. They’re actually there for a reason and more often than not, it’s to preserve the natural environment. Why are people jackasses when it comes to these things? It doesn’t make any sense!

    1. I wish I knew. Every day, I see posts about global warming and being environmentally friendly or heck people with bumper stickers on their cars in the national parks and yet they are the ones doing this stuff.

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