Loving wilderness to death
August 4, 2010
The hike over to Crested Butte was a bit of a novelty for hardy folks, and the trail at times not very obvious. The paper had more than one article on people who got lost hiking over and had to spend a cold night under the stars. Basque sheep herders tended their flocks past Crater Lake, and elk and bighorn sheep were a common sight.
Flash forward to 2010, when the road is gated to control the number of vehicles. There’s mandatory bus service, info booths, wedding platform, and a trail looking more like a bowling alley gutter, worn a foot deep in places, by hundreds of hikers. We now have spring-loaded hiking poles, GPS devices, Camelbacks, Gore-tex, and comfortable hiking shoes. We go over in style now … in droves. This is one example of how people can love wilderness to death. At least the U.S. Forest Service saw it coming, and saved the place from quickly becoming a 20-acre parking lot.
As a population, there are more of us, we’re more fit, and we have the new technologies to enable us to go to some amazing, wild places, with comfort and relative safety. More people are climbing 14ers, hiking to Crested Butte, going on hut trips, and getting into the backcountry. ATVs and hi-tech, dual suspension mountain bikes make access to the backcountry relatively easy. The hunters above my house in Old Snowmass are now all on ATVs. I’m not saying this is “good” or “bad” …. but it has consequences.
All of us, exercising our “right” to play/visit wilderness areas, indiscriminately, can have a devastating effect on the wilderness we love so much. Left to our own devices, by our sheer numbers, humans are intruding on wilderness areas to the point where they are destroying habitat essential to animals, plants and the ecosystem. Our local deer and elk population, with declining birth rates, is now unable to sustain itself, according to the Colorado Division of Wildlife. The reason? “Recreational impacts.”
The Hidden Gems campaign proposes to protect some of the important, lower-elevation areas from excessive human encroachment. The Gems people have compromised by excluding areas that are important to mechanized users, to the point that what they are presenting now is viable, fair and necessary. I won’t be able to get to these particular places on my mountain bike or an ATV. I am OK with that, if it contributes to the survival of the deer, elk and other species in our area, and ensures my descendants will be able to enjoy the same beautiful, wild places I did.
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One of Aspen’s past visitors, Albert Schweitzer, said it best, and you can apply this to the BP disaster, or what’s happening on our own Western Slope. “Man has lost the capacity to foresee and to forestall. He will end by destroying the earth.”
I think Albert Schweitzer would have supported the Hidden Gems campaign. I am.