image by Heather Balogh
http://www.justacoloradogal.com

Katie Boué is a kick-ass rock climber and all around awesome gal. I met her in Arizona as part of the Columbia OmniTen Group and even though I’m not a climber, I enjoy reading her site The Morning Fresh as it also covers two of my favorite non-hiking things: travel and food.

In a recent post of a climbing video, Katie unfortunately had to deal with one of those horrible creatures known as Internet Trolls. Eventually, he turned from criticizing Katie’s climbing to her desire to teach her fellow climbers about conservation.

The troll thought the best way to preserve overcrowded landscapes was to shut people out of those areas, leaving them only for those ‘elite climbers’ who were able to treat the area with the proper respect. In his eyes, Katie was doing the climb a disservice by letting other people know about it, but Katie saw a teaching opportunity. Turning a potentially very negative situation into a positive one, she wrote:

There is no denying that the exploding popularity of climbing has brought some negative consequences on the outdoor community – but isn’t it our responsibility to change that? As climbers who “know better,” aren’t we obligated to pass on our wisdom and experiences to ensure that the ‘traditions’ of proper land stewardship, leave no trace, and giving back to the crags?

While Katie’s writing about climbers, the discussion applies to everyone who enjoys outdoor activities. We’ve all been on popular hiking trails that have CLIF bar wrappers in the bushes or graffiti on the boulders or bins overflowing with picnic trash – Bear Canyon and the East Fork Trail are the ones that come to mind first. The arguments I hear for locking people out are in the same vein – and usually with a healthy stripe of racist undertone, unfortunately – “those people” don’t know how to properly act in the Forest – so wouldn’t it just be better if we didn’t allow them in?

Devil's Punchbowl 032

Over the years, I’ve decided that is most assuredly not the best solution. I fall on Katie’s side here – maybe we are the Expert Hikers of Southern California – but that doesn’t mean we should be the only ones who get to enjoy the trails and peaks here – that means you and I have an extra responsibility to set a good example for others on the trail. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s taken out some extra trash, scolded someone for cutting a switchback, or stopped a kid from carving his name into a tree trunk, right?

I realize, of course, there is a delicate balance to be maintained – and it’s really hard to achieve that balance. I’m of a firm mind that no one – NO ONE – should be denied an experience in the outdoors, but that human impact does have to be properly managed. The National Park Service has tried a number of solutions, including education, permit restrictions, and shuttle services to reduce the impact of cars, with varying degrees of success.

I have found that the absolute best way to show someone how important it is to preserve wild, open spaces is to take them to one and let them experience it for themselves. If you take someone who doesn’t hike up to Sandstone Peak on a clear day, you have the chance to spark something truly great in them. And if you take the time along the way to show them just how fragile the environment is, you can inspire another knowledgeable conservationist – and potentially do more good for the trails you love than you’d ever do by putting up fences and roadblocks.

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But what do you guys think? Should we be turning people away or doing a better job of educating them? Does Forest Service and Park Service need more money for enforcement? Have you ever had your own “Trail Ambassador” moment in the wilderness?

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Casey Schreiner

Founder and Editor at Modern Hiker
In addition to writing about the outdoors since 2006, Casey has also been producing and writing television since 2003.He was the Head Writer on G4's "Attack of the Show," co-writer and host of "The MMO Report," and the Series Producer / Head Writer of pivot's "TakePart Live."His work has received several honors, including Webby, Telly, and CableFAX awards.
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This post was written by Casey Schreiner on September 27, 2012

10 Comments

  • DSD says:

    It seems to often come down to inviting an awareness, gently changing perceptions, and always challenging ourselves to set our own example.
    When you then get to share a trail or summit, you can never go back to the old way of seeing things.
    Teach, lead, wave forward, and many will follow along…
    DSD

  • RobG says:

    There are always going to be people who think its okay to crap on other people’s stuff. It’s these people that need to be stopped. I’m not sure any amount of education will fix it. There never seems to be a ranger/cop around when you need one either. That’s why I think that more people should take an interest in educating/informing/policing. Unfortunately, we’re taught to avoid confrontation and just “tell a person in authority.” But like I said, rarely is such a person available. So you either have to confront these people, and be prepared to kick some ass if they get hostile, or get photos and video of their actions, license plates, and quickly turn it over to authorities. And that’s assuming said authorities will actually act on it.

    In short, some people won’t learn and you will have to kick their ass. It’s that or you end up closing places down, and that isn’t what we want.

  • MacDeth says:

    Oh yes East Fork… So sad and maddening.

    Dirty diapers, Doritos bags, Corona bottles, microwave burrito wrappers, and Budweiser 12 pack boxes.

    I think some “people” need to be executed on the spot for this outrage.

  • Kristin Sabo says:

    This is a hard topic for me since I spend so much of my personal time cleaning up disgusting things and graffiti from a bad-behaved few of the many who hike up to Amir’s Garden in Griffith Park to enjoy it. I also constantly struggle as a volunteer to clean up the extremely environmentally sensitive areas of the 1400-acre Hansen Dam Recreational Area, where 1/7th of the City’s drinking water is filtered through the sands of this beautiful park and three endangered species – two with Federal protection orders – struggle to live in filth and illegal fires and vending carts – YES, vending carts! – hauled in to the water areas by hundreds each weekend who treat it like it’s a public pool or a street festival. So this is my daily, exhausting personal experience. Given this, you can probably guess where my emotions fall when they struggle with the logical side of my head on this issue.

    Both Griffith and Hansen are City parks, and the problems are usually worse there, true. That said, I decided to spend more time hiking in the ANF this summer and started with Oak Springs-Gold Creek-Yerba Buena. I found this ANF trail extensively graffiti’d all the way to Yerba Buena. I then investigated Gold Creek itself and – and I am not exaggerating – it looked like a New York subway. Every rock and tree was hit for at least a mile downstream. So the problems are not just with the City.

    OK – so given all that, at the very least there has to be far more intense enforcement and authority presence. Bad behavior – ILLEGAL behavior – has to be punished! I know we all agree that kids need to get outdoors and play and learn to love our beautiful wild places more than ever today. However, if we do not do something fast, the impact of all this uncontrolled bad behavior is going to take these places away from everyone. The problem of “impact” on our wild spaces, whether it be from trail cutting to erosion to full-on slumification, is not getting better. It is snowballing.

    I’ll close by saying I spent two weeks cleaning up trash and getting rid of the graffiti up and down Gold Creek and along the Oak Springs loop. It looks pretty good right now… for now. Sigh…

  • Raphael Mazor says:

    I have to add that the amount of trash in portions of the East Fork of the San Gabriel River are at truly unacceptable levels. We aren’t just talking about cliff bars–dirty diapers are everywhere. And this is within a wilderness area, supposedly the most highly protected lands anywhere in the nation.

    I am proud that my program is acquiring REAL quantitative data on the amount of trash in the watersheds (and that the data was presented to the LA City Council when they deliberated the plastic bag ban), but I think people understimate the scale of the problem. I love that people use the forests, but the intensity of usage requires far more supervision than the Angeles provides.

  • Raphael Mazor says:

    Some of that vandalism makes me rethink my opposition to capital punishment. But it’s really a result of inadequate staffing of parks and forests.

  • Jack says:

    I am, by profession, a park ranger and I see both sides to this argument. I’ve seen people who r ‘camping regulars’ and know how to bring a bucket to clean their dishes instead of using the spigot. I’ve also seen families leave all of their trash in the fire rings (and cleaned up after them) because they think the fire-pit is a magical black hole. I am also a user and try to camp with the kids, hike and mtn bike, and trail run on almost a daily basis. If we want to keep havin parks and open spaces available to use then we need to have a client base to use them. Without the users the politicians will close the parks and open spaces and open them to contractors and the like. Without a client base there wont be the money to hire the staff to maintain the park. It is up to us, the experienced user as well as the out door professional, to educate the newer untrained visitors to parks a out what is right and what is wrong. But we need to also remain calm and quiet about it. How do we do that? The same way I perform my job. Through education and understanding we gain voluntary compliance. We need to understand that they do not understand. They don’t know that leaving fishing line all over the place is a sure way to kill a duck or a Grebe. We need to gently remind them of their error without malice, snootiness, or aggression. Remember not every one trolls the Internet for the latest in adventure gear. ;-). That my two cents. Thanks for reading.

    • Kristin Sabo says:

      Education is as important as enforcement. We need a lot more park rangers out there – properly paid and equipped – throughout all agencies who have wilderness that they must steward.

  • ADKinLA says:

    This is an interesting topic and one I have thought about a lot after my trip to Eaton Canyon last year. Do I want more people to get out of cities and suburbs and enjoy nature? Yes. Do I want everyone to adhere to as best as possible “Leave No Trace” ethics? Yes, definitely and I think those of us with more “experience” in the outdoors should actively help others with the “pack in pack out” philosophy.

    However, I think it gets to the point where nature can be “loved to death” and permits/fees need to be imposed on certain (not all) wilderness areas. I am not going to get into the “paying to use our public land” debate but I do think that having permits in certain areas is a necessary evil. Many trails nowadays are being improved to allow access to more people but that means more people can access it. Mt. Whitney is a perfect example, it is the tallest peak in the lower 48 but because of the trails, you don’t need special skills to access the summit BUT you do need a permit because of the fragile nature of the area.

    I don’t think you have to restrict trails/climbs to the “elite” (as the NPS tried to do 50+ years ago which caused issues partially leading to tragedy well documented in “Forever On The Mountain”) but limiting access via numbers rather than ability could help. I don’t pretend to know all the answers but as population continues to increase and more people choose the outdoors rather than other pursuits, I think we need to go beyond teaching people leave no trace ethics. Just my 2 cents.

  • Katie Boué says:

    A most excellent post! I was tweeting with two climber ladies about the issue, and it was brought up how the problems of use and abuse are issues that ring throughout the entire outdoor community – it’s a shame, but a reality we must face a figure out a solution for (or at least try to).

    Honestly, of course in a perfect world my troll would have the perfect solution. Only real, true, experienced, responsible _____ (insert outdoor activity — climbers, hikers, etc.) would be able to use their respective natural resources – but that’s just not a realistic option. As folks who want to spread the good tidings of outdoor recreation, we also must spread the good tidings of active land stewardship. It’s a tough gig, but someone has to do it!

    PS: Thank you for the kind words, Casey. You’re pretty bad ass yourself. :)

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