Innovation Over Exclusion: How Adapting to Recreational Land Use Is More Important Than Ever

“Innovation Over Exclusion”

bike camping

How Adapting to Recreational Land Use is More Important Than Ever

Having grown up in Bozeman, Montana, and having now nearly completed my fourth decade of life in the Gallatin Valley, I’m no stranger to how the outdoor industry is transforming and how this is affecting the natural places we simultaneously recreate, commercialize, and protect. The subsequent complaints, now heard ubiquitously across the Interior Mountain West and heard ad nauseum, are such: trailhead parking lots resemble those of Costco at peak shopping hours; the trails themselves are grossly overcrowded; and increased use, often by those with minimal outdoor education, has led to detrimental impact on the land.

Many people then, often those moralizing from their perches of privilege, condemn marketing campaigns, Instagram geotags, and guides who promote further use of the outdoors and divulge “secret locations” that are still safe from the deluge of unwelcomed tourists.

Over crowded parking

“Keep Off My Public Land”

I understand this sentiment. But here is the thing, much in the way I miss the Bozeman I grew up within—rural, humble, gritty, undiscovered—there is no getting back to my hometown of the 1990s. And, likewise, there is no getting back to the vacant trailheads of similar decades. With the ever-constant population growth of the planet, the rise of social media, and heightening awareness around the physiological benefits of nature (read The Nature Fix for further insight), we as an outdoor community need to better adapt to the changes rather than simply condemn them.

Because we can’t have it both ways: encouraging “everyone” to get outdoors while simultaneously complaining about overuse is no longer cute. Plus, in many ways, these complaints are an extension of the systemic expulsions that have historically kept underserved and uninformed people from accessing the outdoors—i.e., wealth, transportation, and hush-hush knowledge have acted as barriers to this idyllic “everyone.” But that is all changing. And for the sake of diversity, equity, and inclusion, we need to embrace it.

bike camping

GuideGap Guides Everyone Outside

Therefore, and if 2020 has taught us anything, the importance resides in flattening a curve. By applying this concept to the outdoors—by expanding recreational education and encouraging fledgling adventurers to seek less explored areas—we can collectively resolve the issues aforementioned: parking, crowds, and impact. Education, however, is often expensive and can be preceded by a lack of confidence and embarrassment—this is why cultures that propagate outdoor recreation (predominately white cultures) are the ones who have historically dominated it.

For these reasons, I find GuideGap’s service so important at this impasse in outdoor recreation. By utilizing their website, a family or individual can fill out a simple questionnaire from the comfort of their home—entering a particular region of interest and desired activities—and then get a custom-made itinerary from a local, professional guide in that specified region who gives suggestions on less-traveled trails and more-nuanced adventures.

Joshua Tree

Lets Innovate How We Get Outside

Why is this important? Well, without this shared wisdom, we will only continue to see an increase in the problems already amplified: national parks becoming unbearable with traffic jams; communal trash cans and outhouses overflowing; wildlife and ecosystems becoming unnecessarily stressed by the bustle. By getting more people into national forests, on Bureau of Land Management property, into state and city parks, and dismantling the celebrity-like hierarchy we’ve assigned to locations (procuring a selfie in Yellowstone or Joshua Tree now holds a similar mania to snapping a photo with Anne Hathaway or Beyoncé in NYC), we then flatten the curve of use in one area and make the outdoor experience better for everyone involved holistically (thus increasing outdoor appreciation, which increases understanding, which increases advocacy).

This is all to say, the solution to the outdoor problem we face—increased people on our trails and climbing routes—isn’t the age-old scheme of wealth- and knowledge-driven exclusive. The solution is common sense innovations that include and support others.

Tyler Dunning

About The Author:  Tyler

Tyler Dunning grew up in southwestern Montana, having developed a feral curiosity and reflective personality at a young age. This mindset has led him around the world, to nearly all of the U.S. national parks, and to the darker recesses of his own creativity. He’s dabbled in such occupations as professional wrestling, archaeology, social justice advocacy, and academia. At his core he is a writer. Check out Tyler’s website at: Tyler Dunning

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