“Sharing Outdoor Information Is Essential For Protecting Public Land”
The Ourdoors Are Shaped By Family And Friends
We’ve all been there. You pull up to your favorite trailhead – usually empty at this time of day – and it’s full of cars. You hike to your favorite lake – the one you’ve been going to since you were a kid – and people picnicking and fishing cover the once-empty shore. Your favorite “secret” campsite has a car at it when you get there after work on Friday. When this happens, it’s easy to feel angry and that “things just aren’t how they used to be.” Who told? How did all these people find your favorite spots? It’s no secret that as outdoor recreation becomes more popular and as information becomes more readily available, more and more people are discovering these once harder-to-find places. And, as the common saying goes, it can feel like we’re “loving them to death.” It can indeed feel like a real loss when all of a sudden everyone seems to know about your favorite secret spot… but who really has the right to ownership over these places, and to what degree does keeping this information to ourselves promote the elitism and inaccessibility inherent to outdoor recreation?
Those of us who are among the privileged, largely white, community of outdoor recreators often forget that the land we enjoy wasn’t ours to begin with. Yosemite National Park belonged to the Paiute and Miwuk people. Grand Canyon is the ancestral home of eleven tribes. The mountains and rivers I love to explore near my home of Carbondale, CO are on the ancestral land of the Ute people. The place names tell the story: We call the iconic mountain that towers above Carbondale Mt. Sopris; its namesake, Richard Sopris, was a former mayor of Denver and fought against Native Americans and for the Confederacy. The Ute called this same mountain Wemagooah Kazuhchich, which means “Ancient Mountain Heart Sits There” or “Mother Mountain.” Nearly all of our public land has the same story, and we’d be wise to remember that.
Sharing Outdoor Information Creates Outdoor Advocates
How did you find out about your favorite outdoor places? If you’re like me, someone told you about them (maybe in hushed tones with a map drawn on the back of a yellowing receipt, but you still got the information from somewhere). This isn’t to say that I tell everyone I meet about all of my favorite places. There is something to be said for “discovering” something for yourself – going deeper than posts on Instagram or what information can easily be found online. It is immensely satisfying to find yourself all alone under a Utah sky or howling at the moon in an empty mountain meadow after scouring maps and old guidebooks, but I also don’t see myself as the arbiter of who should or shouldn’t know about an awesome place to spend time outside. If someone asks me for a recommendation in good faith, I’ll share.
Public Lands Are Ours To Protect
No one has more of a right to be in the outdoors than anyone else. The rhetoric of “it’s just not how it used to be” is unproductive and elitist. It is true that more people equals more cars, more trash, and a less pristine-feeling experience, but it is also true that public lands belong to all of us. Part of sharing the wealth of outdoor spaces also involves sharing information about how to take care of the resources we all have the right to use.
Jacques Cousteau said, “You can’t save what you don’t love and you don’t love what you don’t know.” More people spending time outside equals more champions for protecting public lands. These places belong to everyone, not just people who live near them. In a country with rapidly changing demographics, it is especially important to engage young people, people of color, and people from cities with wild places. We are all responsible for enjoying our public lands in ways that are welcoming and ensure that they will be there for future generations to enjoy. Outdoor recreation isn’t a zero-sum game, and there’s enough to go around. Keeping our favorite places secret doesn’t guarantee that they will be there forever — in fact, it might mean just the opposite.
About The Author: Shaina
Shaina Maytum is a writer, educator, and adventurer living on Colorado’s Front Range. She loves exploring the wilderness of the American West, but never forgets that these special places need protecting. Shaina strives – through writing, education, and advocacy – to make sure future generations of humans and animals will also be able to sleep under silent, starry skies. Read more of her work at shainamaytum.com
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