I used to delude myself that going on hikes and encouraging others to do the same via my blog was the extent of my obligation to the planet that makes it all possible. The guiding philosophy of outdoor-oriented recreation is that being out there is the first step toward appreciating it enough to keep it around for our great-great grandkids.
That’s true as far as it goes — but it does not go nearly far enough.
Over the weekend I finished reading the biography of Steve Jobs, who was depicted as an occasionally reprehensible human being who had at least one redeeming quality: zero tolerance for lame excuses. Inspired by his famous reality-distortion field, I started thinking about how much good my hikes and my blog posts were doing for the planet. And I had to sneaking suspicion it was not a hell of a lot.
And that’s what got me thinking the next thing I’d blog about is how being a hiker — or hunter, mountaineer or kite surfer — is better than nothing, but better than nothing is not going energize our species to stop trashing stuff faster than it’s being replaced.
So you no doubt noticed that November was a slow month the ol’ blog. I finally had a feast of work on the business side that left no time for hiking or blogging for four weeks in a row. After nine months of famine, I was so happy to have constructive work to do that I had no qualms about taking a hiking/blogging break.
So I finally got my first chance to do a little hiking this morning at Tanglewood Park, the big urban park where I go when I’m too lazy/busy to drive to a trailhead. And guess what: in the four weeks I was away, the thoughtful caretakers of the park had painted a bunch of wide cuts through the woods with big fat strips of asphalt.
Actually these “trails,” paved though they may be, make the park much more accessible to casual walkers and bicyclists, who otherwise had to dodge cars, RVs and park district trucks on the park’s main roads. The park has three golf courses, so you can imagine the motorized traffic it gets.
Most of the paved trails are far from the places where I walk but still, they were a jolt of reality about the imperative to pay attention to what’s happening to our open spaces. I just walked over there; I never gave any thought to how the park was being managed until I saw they’d put in a bunch of pavement without consulting with me.
But here’s the reality of how the world works: while it’s a certainty that nobody will ever ask for your permission if there’s reasonable suspicion you’ll say no, most often they won’t ask if you’d say yes, either. If you want to have a say in how things turn out, you have to speak up.
In the case of Tanglewood, I’d have to weigh the asphalt blight against the reality that we have serious obesity troubles around here. The new trail lets people who can’t afford the entrance fee ($2 is a deal killer if you haven’t got it) park in the free area and walk/ride with considerably less anxiety about getting flattened by a soccer mom’s SUV.
Most likely I’d have gritted my teeth and put up with the decision to pave the trails. At some point they must have been discussed at a public meeting and voted on by elected officials. I could’ve at least raised a little hell to let ’em know somebody’s paying attention.
In years to come there are going to be some very heated arguments over the most productive use for open spaces. Sure, we’d love to see more wilderness areas established and current protections strengthened. But more people and more energy demands are going to make that seriously difficult. Those of us who like our fun under the sun will have to become a lot more zealous about our default position: recreation that preserves 80 percent of an ecosystem is far better than development that ruins all of it.
I think once you get involved in, say, the politics of local parks you might understand that it’s not so hard to influence how things turn out. And once you start local, it’s not such a huge leap to start thinking global.
Sorry to hear about the paving, Tom. A somewhat similar thing happened near where I live with the expansion of a ski resort. Sometimes it seems that the juggernaut of development is unstoppable. But I guess the only way to absolutely guarantee that it IS unstoppable is for the people who care about wild places to do nothing. As Maggie Khun said, “Speak your mind even if your voice shakes.”
I hear you on that one Tom. I’m trying to get involved in the some of the local park work around here but it’s hard. You can’t just walk in, speak your mind and expect everyone to agree. Even if they do agree, there are many more powers at work with land-owners and all the different user groups. I think the best thing we can do is use our blogs to spread the word and spend a bit of time ourselves putting in that time to help save the places we play.
In the UK there are non-profit organisations, such as the British Mountaineering Council (BMC) who campaign for the protection of our countryside and access rights for walkers and climbers. Membership is about £30 per year and there are a whole range of other benefits to joining.
I’m not certain, but I’m pretty sure that many local parks often have a “Friends of such and such Park” who would know what is going on in the park and who to contact with proposals and complaints!
You are right, though, its important to get involved at some level because otherwise someone with business interests will destroy our open and wild spaces.
For anyone interested to read more about the affects humans have on our countryside its worth reading this article called How to Kill a Mountain.
Good point. I came to the same conclusion a couple of years ago myself. Thankfully there are many ways to do this. Politics is not for me so I donate time and money to local non-profits and get involved with promotion and advocacy.
But don’t sell yourself short Tom. This blog is a part of the solution.
Love the proactive approach. We all need to get involved more.
This is a great post for anyone who loves hiking!
– Paige @ Green Global Travel
I started hiking about twenty years ago when I lived in North Carolina. I spent years hiking the Uwharrie and Appalachian mountains and really enjoyed it. Three years ago I moved to South Florida and wasn’t able to hike due to a back injury. Seven months ago I moved to Northern Illinois and was able to start hiking again. The prairie and hill hiking is completely different than the hiking I did in North Carolina, but still really fun. I have spent the past couple months hiking the forest preserves in the county I live in and the surrounding counties. I’m not use to the cold weather yet, and to be honest I really don’t want to get use to it. Thankfully, spring is almost here and along with it warmer weather…YAY! I’m looking forward to hiking the trails around here when the trees have leaves on them and I don’t have to wear four layers of clothing just to stay warm.
I though I would share some of my equipment tips with everyone. I bought a good fitting pair of waterproof hiking boots, a small backpack for my day hikes, and a couple cans of tent waterproofing. For extra protection from the water I sprayed my boots from top to bottom with the tent waterproofing. Then I sprayed my backpack, let it dry, and sprayed it again with the tent waterproofing to protect everything inside my pack from the rain. Whenever I go hiking, from day trips to week long hikes, I always take along the following items. Some people might think that taking some of these items is being overly cautious, but you never know when you might get hurt or lost and being prepared can make the difference between a fun hike and disaster.
1. I clip a stainless steel water bottle to one of the straps of my backpack and fill it with fresh water before every trip.
2. I pack a first-aid kit in my pack. I make sure the kit has Tylenol, Advil, iodine, hydrogen peroxide, bandages(different sizes), ACE bandages, first aid tape, popsicle sticks (for splints), needle, thread, and tweezers.
3. Water purification tablets, a couple extra bottles of water, and food. For food I pack a few apples and some dried fruit with nuts.
4. Rain poncho
5. Emergency blanket, the one that looks like aluminum foil… it really does keep you warm.
6. A compass
7. If you can get one, pack a map of the trail or of the surrounding area.
8. A knife
9. A coil of lightweight rope
10. A small tarp. Along with the rope, the tarp can be used to make a make-shift tent if you have to unexpectedly spend the night in the woods.
11. Water-proof matches, flint and steel, and a knife sharpener
12. an extra pair or two of socks
13. A flashlight
14. Plastic bags. I have a roll of plastic bags that you can cut to size then tie off the bottom. The plastic bags are good to pack your stuff in to protect if from water even though your pack will be water-proof. I also use the bags to put my trash in and any trash I pick up along the trail. Remember, pack it in…pack it out!
On my website, http://www.naturesfather.com, I have a day hike check list, long distance hiking check list, camping check list and my outdoor journal. I also have links to very good companies that sell all your outdoor gear needs at great prices. I also have from E-books up for FREE download!
Great post for hiking lovers.
Trekking in Nepal
Nice posting. Really enjoyed reading it.
Holiday in Nepal
Keep up the good work.
Mountaineering in Nepal
Nice post…keep it up!
When I see paved walkways in local parks and wooded areas I really don’t mind. I think paved greenways help encourage folks less woodsy do get out among nature, slow down a bit, appreciate. I think it has a ripple effect.
I also think of folks with handicaps. My father was in a head-on automobile accident and lived his last 13 years as a quadriplegic. Prior to the accident he golfed and hiked and skiied. He was the one that turned me onto Roan Mountain when I was a teen.I’m thankful that Roan had some paved areas where he could still visit his beloved spot and take his wheelchair to enjoy the Rhododendrens and the views.
Folks with certain handicaps will never be able to experience the magic of Grandfather Trail or Profile Trail…or the Roan Highlands….or the AT or the rugged places that us hikers can go. Yet, with some paved areas, they can smell the woods, and touch a bit of sky.
Although i do mountain climbing and hiking as a profession, i always marvel when i see a new person reaching a summit or even getting excited by the trail on a mountain hike. reminds me of how a relatively ordinary thing to me; is important to other people
There is an interesting debate that I occasionally encounter between folks who want to keep wild areas totally wild (no trails, no people) and those who want to keep wild areas for recreation. The very act of walking, biking or horseback riding leaves your footprints (or tire tracks) on the landscape and does do some damage to these wild places. Personally however, I would rather see minimal human impact such as trails as compared to industrial resource extraction and those folks invested in recreational use of our wild places represent a segment of society willing to vote for their recreational wild spaces.
Lets get folks out there as many ways as possible!
I like your article, your spirit for both hiking and relationships!!!
We certainly need places left untouched to enjoy all our earth has to offer. Yet, civilization encroaches slowly but surely into these areas.