Maybe the problem is not enough people have experienced the wilderness
How big is our wilderness? I’m not talking about in the world. I’m not that deep, at least not this week. I’m really just being shallow and talking about the rugged area immediately around us that we use regularly, if not as much as we’d like to.
I have finally discovered hiking; not in the sense that I had never done it before. I have hiked a lot pretty much all of my life, and since most of that life has been here, I can say without bragging that I know our backcountry like the back of my hand.
In New York City, I will get lost in two minutes. Here, you can drop me anywhere in a 30-mile radius of Wagner Park at sunrise and I’ll find my way home before dinner. I am very confident about that.
Most of the recognition I have of the mountains and woods has come as a byproduct of running, mountain biking, camping or ski touring. In other words, the backcountry is just the place where I did the things I like to do. It was a backdrop.
This summer is different. I started hiking with my wife and adult kids, sometimes all together and sometimes separately or in different combinations, always with the dog, but pretty regularly every weekend. I have been hiking just to get outside and look around. It’s that simple. I’m not doing it as training for something else. I don’t do it to lose weight. I’m not trying to find myself out there. For the first time in my life I am just curious to see what mountains and lakes and forests look like when all I want to do is look at them.
I thought I would be bored. I have fallen in love.
I also have made a few trips to Denver on or near a weekend. This has been a real awakening of sorts, too. It is madness on Interstate 70! There is heavy traffic heading out of the city beginning early Friday mornings and bumper-to-bumper coming back down from the mountains starting Sunday mornings before the Hickory House opens. In between, every highway within an hour of the Continental Divide is packed.
Denver’s population has grown 20% since 2010. The metro area has added about 500,000 people since 1990. It shows! Lots of those people are heading into the mountains every chance they get. There is no surprise as to why. They love it as much as we do. They like doing all the things we do. Too bad we live in such an incredible place, right?
So, now you might see where I was going when I asked in the beginning, how big is our wilderness? What I really want to know is how many of us can it handle before it is not a wilderness any longer.
I am torn over the recent local movement to “tag responsibly.” This refers to not tagging the photos we post on social media that we pray the world will “Like” and be jealous of with the locations we take them in. The idea is to keep these majestic spots secret so that they do not become overrun. I mean, doesn’t it seem a little snotty to post pictures of ourselves enjoying a sunset on a high mountain pass to make everyone envy us and then consciously omit the location so nobody else can go there and see it for themselves?
It seems a more humble and effective approach, if we are truly worried about overcrowding, to just stop posting those types of popularity pictures altogether and keep the awesome memories only in our hearts. But, even this may be as mission modesty impossible as it is still arguably selfish.
I suppose my point is that, if we are going to continue being so vain as to keep posting envy-inducing photos of ourselves in incredibly beautiful places, should we then double down on the conceit and get all selfish about not telling others where the shot was taken to prevent them from finding it and possibly getting inspired there, too? It actually sounds like only really lousy people would behave like this, and yet this appears to be exactly what the Take the Aspen Pledge #tagresponsibly campaign is encouraging us to do.
I know many will react to this criticism by saying something along the lines of, “Relax, it’s Aspen.” Allow me to save them their collective breath. The arrogance of this campaign already makes our location abundantly clear.
Roger Marolt does not see how more humans inspired by real experiences in God’s gift of natural beauty can be bad for the planet. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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