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[pct-l] LNT 2- Why now?
Hello All -
One of the most common questions that I get is: "Why should I bother with
LNT? What has happened that makes LNT more important than just doing my
own thing? If my camping/hiking techniques were good enough for Granddad,
why aren't they good enough for me? Who am I hurting, anyway?"
Yeah, yeah, I know...that was more than one question...and they DON'T
always ask them with those exact words <g>. I do get a LOT of these kinds
of questions... it didn't take me long to realize that we might as well
address these good questions before we get into techniques. To be honest,
if I had not gotten what I consider to be good answers (when I did the
asking <g>) I wouldn't be messing with LNT now.
First, a few definitions. I use the term "backcountry" to mean those lands
(public or private) that would be of interest to people who enjoy the
human-powered "traditional" sports like: climbing, spelunking, hiking,
x-country skiing, snow shoeing, backpacking, canoeing/kayaking/rafting and
tent/tarp/bivy camping. These are just examples...there ARE others <g>. I
certainly don't mean to imply that other folks (or the same folks at other
times!) might not also want to make other uses (recreation, commerce, etc.)
of the same chunks of land. Since this is mainly a hikers forum, I plan to
confine my comments mostly to those parts of the "backcountry" that might
be of interest to us hiker-types.
I guess I must also add that who gets to do what to which piece of land
ultimately is a legal (and therefore political <g>) issue in our country.
What laws to make and how they should look IS an interesting subject for
debate, but I don't mean to start such a discussion by simply defining what
I mean by the word "backcountry" <g>.
I use the term "wildlands" to mean those parts (public or private) of the
backcountry that are still relatively unchanged by man. I use the term
"wilderness area" to define a chunk of wildland that has been specifically
set aside (protected somehow) to remain as unchanged by man as is possible.
There are other definitions for the above terms (technical, legal,
etc.)...but, I like the ones I gave and this IS my posting <VBG>.
So, all that out of the way, let's look at the question of "what is
happening to make us want to move programs like LNT to the front burner?"
Simply put, we are beating parts of our backcountry to pieces. Not ALL
parts ...and not COMPLETELY to pieces in most...but the trend is
unmistakable...and it IS accelerating. A few numbers to think about:
94.5% of Americans recreate in the outdoors each year (somebody do the
numbers, just how many hundreds of millions of visits
to the outdoors is that?)
Just in our public wildlands alone -
1965 - 4 million visitor-days per year
1997 - 20 million visitor-days per year
(Wow...I count a 400% increase!)
Some specific places have even more dramatic numbers:
mountain-bike rides on Slickrock trail (Moab, UT)
1984 - 300
1993 - 90,000
(somebody figure up that % increase <g>)
Enough numbers...take my word that there are enough statistics out there to
bury us all <g>. Let me suggest a couple of articles that look at the
"Going Wild" by David Seideman, TIME, 25jul94
"No Room, No Rest" by Jerry Adler & Daniel Glick, NEWSWEEK, 1aug94
Both are full of numbers and make their points without sensationalism.
There are lots of other good articles, those two just happen to be sitting
in front of me this minute (I use them as handouts when I do the longer
indoor LNT sessions).
It is way too easy to dig up evidence that we are dramatically increasing
our use of the backcountry <f>. The managing agencies can fill us in on
the numbers of campsites, trails, and even entire areas that have been
damaged to the point that they have been closed to public use. Even easier
to see are the many restrictions that are being put into place in a (often
vain) effort to stem the destruction (did grandpa have to put up with group
size restrictions, day use limits, use permits, etc.?).
Of course, raw numbers alone don't tell the whole story.
Not only are we using the entire backcountry more and more, we are using
some parts much more than others. We see the 90/10 phenomenon (10% of the
land gets 90% of the use) all over the place...and, in places like Boundary
Waters and many of our National Parks, it looks more like 95/5 <f>.
On top of it all, the resources to protect and maintain our backcountry are
(way too often) not only failing to keep up with the increased usage, they
are actually declining! We all know that the feds are reducing their
maintenance budgets as the various agencies try cope with current funding
I ate dinner with some managing agency friends (he/she both work in
recreation management) not long after they had discovered that their
organization had picked up 800 more miles of a National Scenic Trail to
maintain...with a ZERO increase in budget! Definitely an interesting table
Why is all this increased use happening?
One reason is that there are a LOT more of us running around now than there
was in great-great-grandpa's time <g>. A lot of public/private money has
been spent building roads and other conveniences that open up previously
inaccessible backcountry. Outdoor equipment has improved to the point that
even relatively inexperienced users can push deeper and deeper into our
wildlands. We "common men" probably have as much (or more!) discretionary
income (to spend on expensive outdoor toys) and discretionary time
available (to play with those toys in the outdoors) than we ever have in
history. A whole bunch of folks now make a living by promoting and
providing backcountry fun. Backpacking is "in"...just read the
publications that cover our sport (Backpacker, Outside, etc.) and ask all
those firms that make the outdoor gear <g>.
And...maybe more and more of us just simply NEED to get away from the
rat-race and into the wilds more often...
To me, the evidence is overwhelming that backcountry use is going up and
up...and I don't see any end in sight. In fact, I wonder if the use-rate
curve might go up even steeper in the near future, as some of the
"group-oriented" subcultures in our country finally start to make
significant use of the public lands that belong to all of us.
Why is this increased usage of our backcountry necessarily bad?
I will meet you at "LNT 3- What is it?"
- Charlie II AT (MEGA'93)
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