Every year around Memorial Day, I remember something from some 40 years ago.
We were living in Kennebunkport, Maine, best known today as the home of George H. W. Bush, this was a time before most Americans had even heard of the Bush family.
Nora and I were living at the time above a women’s clothing shop in town, and to enter and exit our apartment, we had to go through the women’s changing room in the shop. While that made for some interesting moments, that is another story.
The thing that I remember this time of year was a subtle experience. Kennebunkport then was a small tourist town much like BV today, experiencing exploding property values and growing tourism that was straining the resources of the town.
Standing in the post office one day, going through my mail, an elderly man stepped up next to me to pick up his mail.
While we were there, he looked at me, and said just two words in a low, ominous voice, “They’re coming.”
He meant the tourists, of course. Every year at Memorial Day weekend, they would start to arrive, just like here in BV, and steadily increase in numbers until reaching a high around the Fourth of July.
I admit to a love/hate relationship with tourists. Both my wife and I earn much of our livelihood through tourism. We need them. On the other hand, I have been increasingly more aware of the impact of more people on the environment where we live.
During the winter, we can walk into a restaurant here in town and truly know many of the others dining there. In the summer, it all changes. Just today, my wife and I were sitting in a downtown eatery, and we looked around and saw nobody else that was familiar.
But then, in walked two friends. As we talked, we remarked about not having seen them through much of the long winter.
The conversation moved to a comment about all of the people visiting our town and then to the problems caused by the increased use of our forests and other resources.
I thought this would be a good time to write an article reminding folks to do a better job of respecting the environment that we are blessed with.
The other day, I made an early spring drive up the South Cottonwood road to see how far up the road was open. I made it up to the Green Timber Trailhead in the National Forest, stopping to give the dogs a walk.
On the way up I went past all of the dispersed campsites along the road. I was amazed at the condition of many of the sites.
First, you notice how many of the trees have been hacked with hatchets. What would possess someone to camp in a beautiful spot and do that, or allow their children to do such a thing?
This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are improper fire sites, trails worn in every direction, trash, burnt plastic and cans in the fire rings, cigarette butts and, of course, human excrement and toilet paper all around.
The same is true around our alpine lakes. Behind every bush, a toilet, paper and poop left on the ground.
The effect of this is often expressed in pollution in our streams. Even though dispersed camping is allowed in the National Forest and Bureau of Land Management lands, the alpine and sub-alpine environments are paying the price.
My brewing anger over the situation prompted me to review the Forest Service rules on dispersed camping.
I also took a look at the website for the Center for Outdoor Ethics, an organization whose mission is to educate people on how to implement Leave No Trace when using the out-of-doors. I encourage you to take a look at their website as well. https://lnt.org/
The problem is that if the pressure on the environment continues to increase, it will lead us to more restricted access and costly restorations, something that none of us want.
The thing that stood out to me was one of the first statements on the “Leave No Trace’ website, that nine out of 10 people are simply uninformed about their impact.
It makes sense, I’m sure that they either don’t know how to do things better or they think, “I’m just one person, what difference can it make?”
They don’t understand that they are one of many, and the cumulative impact is significant.
You see, we could just get angry, and start hating all of those people that are coming to our area for their chosen vacation.
On the other hand, we could realize that they truly don’t know better, and it could be our job to help educate them on how to do it better.
For instance, I’m pretty militant about personal hygiene in the high country.
I’ve walked along too many streams and around alpine lakes and have been disgusted by the human excrement and toilet paper. I’m not talking about one latrine site, I mean all over, behind bushes and trees.
I always sit down with my guests before a trip and explain that if they are with me on a trip, I will be carrying a toilet kit for them to use. In the kit is a plastic trowel, toilet paper and some zip lock bags. If they have to poop, they should dig a 6-inch cat hole at least 100 feet from the water, bury the poop and carry the toilet paper back on their own.
It is interesting to see how many people are surprised to learn that it is the proper way to do this, and that I’m not going to make an exception for anyone. But I also have never had anyone tell me that they wouldn’t do it, and that it wasn’t a good procedure.
They came back better educated and feeling better about themselves.
Another example is with improperly discarded monofilament fishing line. I find it regularly in wads around the lakes and rivers.
I’ve had a number of bad experiences here, once driving a large, rusty, size 8 wooly bugger deep into my own calf muscle when I tripped over someone’s discarded fishing line.
On another occasion, I had to help free a baby goose that was seriously entangled in line. Fortunately, the parents stood by and seemed to know that I was helping their distressed gosling, and held off the normal goose parental attack to protect their baby.
It is so easy to pick that stuff up and carry it out, and not leave it lying around on the shoreline.
This has to be a self-regulating idea. I’ve approached people on a number of occasions, explaining to them what the rules are, or how to better take care of our resources.
They are, more often than not, willing to listen and make a change.
Occasionally they are not cooperative, and I have reported violations. But there are not enough law enforcement officers in the Forest Service, BLM or Parks and Wildlife to do it for you. We all have to step up.
When this time of year arrives, instead of being irritated at the influx of people, I try to see them as potential advocates for our public lands, something that is sorely needed.
I remember to be grateful to them, of course, as I am better off financially with them being here, but also because they are first coming here because of their love for the outdoors.
I hope that we can help them understand, though, their individual impact and how to mitigate that impact.
I think that if we can do a better job of helping to educate them, we all will be better off.