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.
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 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.
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.