Roger Marolt: If only de-funders of the EPA would take a hike
Exactly how big is the wilderness? It feels like we are going to find out sooner rather than later. I don’t know if we are nearing capacity of the great outdoors, but lately it feels like it. I have never seen so many people out exploring the natural beauty that surrounds us. From hiking trails to biking trails and all riverbanks between, this place is especially packed this summer.
I’m pretty sure it is a byproduct of COVID-19. I get it. People don’t want to congregate indoors. The tickets to big events purchased last fall aren’t worth the memory they are taking up on our iPhones. Sitting for hours in an invisible cloud of coronavirus aerosols on an airplane to get to exotic destinations this summer is about as appealing as kissing a bat on the lips.
There is not a lot to do except for this thing we have really been wanting to do for a long time now — getting more in tune with nature. It incorporates getting fit. It facilitates destressing. It helps us unplug from the digital world. It’s done best with family and close friends. We’re eating more gorp. There’s no cholesterol in gorp. In short, it is a New Year’s resolution maker’s dream.
It’s not like the coronavirus lockdown has caused this, though. The surge into the great outdoors has been happening for a while and noticeably picking up its pace the past few years.
From 2017 through 2019 it is estimated that people in the United States increased outdoor recreational activities by over 21%. We bought gear. We discovered places to go. We learned how to use that gear once we got there. Basically, we were well prepared for this time in history when it makes more sense than ever to get away from it all.
There is a new viral spread associated with this increased exposure to what a few have loved for years and what many are becoming infatuated with lately. People are coming to places in the wild for the first time and they are enthusiastically telling a few friends and sharing pictures on social media with a lot of acquaintances. Many of those people catch the bug to check it out. Then they tell a few friends and scatter pictures and so on and so on and so on.
It feels to me that we are pushing a huge societal shift away from concrete and glass toward trees and rocks that will not end when this coronavirus is over. In fact, it may intensify once people become hooked on this exploration with everything needed to richly enjoy life either stuffed in a backpack or tucked neatly into the nooks and crannies of Sprinter van. It will be perpetuated by finally feeling the security of self-sufficiency without “stuff” and discovery of parts of the world that authentically enrich us in ways we always knew existed but rarely put much value on trying out. The masses are becoming inspired by the majesty of this planet.
As I park and hike an extra half mile along a wall of cars to get to the Snowmass Creek trailhead, I feel a little exhausted by it all before the actual hike begins. My superficial reaction is something along the lines of “ugh.” And yet, it doesn’t really bother me even though I tell myself it should. Crowds have their places, and this isn’t one of them, right? My mind sees the parking lot overflowing, but my heart senses the massive expanse beyond that. Once on the trail, I encounter plenty of people, but not nearly as inconveniently as feared.
This broadening discovery of nature is a good thing. Encouraging it is practicing what we preach. Ironically enough, my gut tells me that treasured places will be better for it. The more people who see them, the more appreciation will materialize. Appreciation is where reverence begins. Reverence coaxes humility. Humility is where personal responsibility for caretaking predominates. We will demand more of each other to preserve it, be more respectful of it ourselves, and together generously fund programs that place intrinsic value over highest and best use measured in dollars. Exploration precedes authentic valuation.
Even more, I believe this exposure to the world’s natural treasures makes us better people, not in the sense of superiority, but spiritually. Those who have partaken believe this, right? So, if each of us can grow in mind, body and spirit for our forays into the woods, it seems the more of us who do this, the better for all.
Roger Marolt does not think selfishness with our wilderness leads to a healthier soul. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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