Government? Closed. Parks? Open.

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People taking pictures of things at a busy national park (I prefer to photograph the people taking photographs, obviously)

Reading the news is a small daily horror. We are currently in the longest government shutdown of the modern era, and people and places are suffering. The institutions we have built this country upon are failing us.

The national parks are staying open despite being understaffed and unable to handle the influx of visitors. Restroom facilities are closed. Trash is no longer being picked up. Landscapes are being damaged, sometimes irreparably so.

I’ll save you the trouble of digging through the news dumpster yourself:

We can blame the shutdown. We can blame the lack of money and resources that protect our parks. We can blame troublemakers and rule breakers.

But the root is us. Thoughtless, hurtful humans. Because it’s not one person causing all of this, not two, not a handful, not a couple “bad seeds.” We, the collective, are the problem.

Natalie Diaz tweeted the following in regard to the destruction at Joshua Tree National Park:

natalie diaz

I could make this post a philosophical musing on human nature and destruction and how we love to play god for the brief eclipse of power. I could cite scientific studies (hello, Stanford Prison Experiment). I could quote Shakespeare. But none of that is helpful.

See, what bothers me about news is that very few outlets tell me what to do about any of this. They inform me of all the bad things happening but don’t give me ways to help fix them. And for me that’s frustrating. I’m a doer. I believe firmly in my own agency and my ability to affect the world. I believe that change is brought about by people, and that I can be a source of power if only I do and act and try.

So I do. And I act. And I try.

This is me trying. This right here. This small, sparrow-boned post.

Want to help our parks? Here are some things you can do:

  1. Don’t go. Even if you promise not to litter or take a dump, human traffic is still a problem. Please don’t visit the national parks right now.
  2. Educate yourself on the Leave No Trace principles. There are seven of them. Learn how to best minimize your footprint in our parks–both national and local–so that when you visit in the future, you will know how to respect the surrounding wilderness.
  3. Donate. Money is helpful and necessary. Small local organizations are stepping in right now to protect our parks. Support them. Yosemite is one of my favorite national parks and through some research (AKA a recommendation from Beth Rodden, a Yosemite resident and pro-climber, on Instagram), I learned that Ken Yager and the Yosemite Climbing Association are doing a lot to help the park, especially with the current trash overload. They have a donation page!
  4. Write thank-you letters to park staff. Kind words are always welcome.
  5. Get involved with your local conservancy or park. Education is one of the best ways to develop an appreciation and understanding of nature. Will it help immediately? No. But change doesn’t happen overnight and the American wilderness faces a long, globally-warmed road ahead; it needs all the supporters it can.

What the parks need right now and in the future are kind, compassionate, thoughtful human beings who care about the people and the world around them. Because even if there isn’t someone there to tell us what to do, even if we are able to run free and wild with sunsets in our eyes, we need to do the right thing. For the planet we live on. For our own fragile humanity.

There’s no better time to start than now.

(Do you, dear reader, have other suggestions? How can people help our parks and wilderness? What cool, inspiring things have you done or heard about in this vein? Let me know!)

Putting Price Tags on Parks

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Canyonlands National Park in Utah is one of the parks with a proposed increased entrance fee.

Once upon a time, a man named Gutenberg invented the printing press. Before that books were copied by hand, making them expensive and rare, available only to the societal elite.

And then along came Gutenberg and everything changed. There were more books in circulation. More people began to read. The worlds of ink and paper that had existed for a small minority exploded into existence for the masses. Mankind was changed forever, not by the existence of books but by their sudden accessibility.

It’s not a unique situation. Accessibility is always an issue in technology, but it affects other spheres as well, such as art, food, education, and yes, public parks.

The Trump administration is considering increased entrance fees to 17 of the most visited national park. It’s not a mere $5 or $10 hike in price, however. The proposal would double, or in some cases triple, entrance prices to $70 per vehicle. An entrance pass gets you access to one park for up to seven days.

On the front, the administration says this plan is intended to create more revenue for the parks, which they desperately need. These increased rates would raise an additional $70 million for the parks.

But the government is also proposing steep cuts. The president’s 2018 budget cuts nearly $400 million from the parks budget.

Even a non-mathlete like myself can see things don’t add up. It’s not about increasing funding to the parks, it’s about shifting the burden of responsibility for who pays for that funding.

Our national parks are underfunded and overcrowded, and yes, raising entrance fees theoretically would help alleviate these issues. But the deeper issue at debate here is who has access to these spaces. National parks already have a diversity issue–most visitors are white, wealthy, and middle-aged–and raising fees would be yet another barrier of entry for people with less money or who don’t live in communities that place as much value on natural spaces.

I wish I had something funny to say about all this, some witty Bolshevik quip about Russian elitism or something, but I’m empty handed. With Trump’s recent approval to shrink Bears Ears and Grand-Staircase Escalante Monuments in Utah, it’s clear that this administration cares little about public land.

In a way, it’s a circular problem. The current administration doesn’t care about protecting public lands, which then impedes the public from experiencing and enjoying them. Which then creates people who also don’t care about wilderness because they had little exposure to it.

I can tell you that big trees are amazing and important,  but until you stand in front of General Sherman yourself and try in vain to capture the towering sequoia in a single frame on your iPhone, craning your neck to see its broccoli-like branches way up high, it won’t mean as much to you.

When did you last visit a park, national or otherwise? Where did you go? How dirty were your shoes? What did the sunlight feel like on your skin?

The government is accepting public comments about this proposal until November 23. So if you’ve ever visited a park or been touched by nature in any shade or fashion, take a moment and share your story and why you think public spaces should remain as accessible as possible.

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