Article: Crisis in our national parks


May 16, 2016
An interesting article in The Guardian starts out talking about the crowds at Horseshoe Bend and then talks about Yosemite, Yellowstone, ...

In an article talking about overcrowding and the consequences of social media, this line really jumped out at me, sadly the incongruity was not addressed

"This tree is helping to usher in a new era in Yosemite. And it’s not alone. Grand Tetons, Mt Rainier, Yellowstone, and Zion are all being wired with internet and cell service as part of a plan to attract a new generation of park-goers. In Yosemite there are six towers already constructed, with plans under way for close to a dozen more."
That sucks. Isn't being disconnected and being in nature the strongest appeal of national parks? We go to enjoy the views, the challenge of getting to certain places, the sounds of nature. I think that people my age and younger could probably stand to wait a few hours before being able to post all their crappy selfies in front of every easily accessible feature in the park.

I still like Ed Abbey's idea of access to parks. Bikes and foot only (but I'd add exceptions for the elderly and the physically disabled). And that's why I'll continue to spend most of my hiking and backpacking time in wilderness areas.
I still like Ed Abbey's idea of access to parks. Bikes and foot only (but I'd add exceptions for the elderly and the physically disabled). And that's why I'll continue to spend most of my hiking and backpacking time in wilderness areas.

National Parking Lots. You can't see shit from a car. Too many good lines for one post.

On the other hand, we need more people to help protect these places. It's too bad some of these places get loved to death, but if they will then in turn help protect the other places, we have some advocates. Maybe we can get some funding for trail maintenance, or help with enforcement. We need to find a balance somehow.
National Parks have backcountry quotas, I don't see why they shouldn't have front country ones, too. I really don't understand the wifi, though.
And from a completely different article at lunch time, this time about restaurant lists and instagram types. It seems like a very similar issue.

"If there was one main negative takeaway from the raging fires of food tourist culture and the lists fanning the flames, it was that the people crowding the restaurant were one time customers. They were there to check off a thing on a list, and put it on Instagram. They weren’t invested in the restaurant’s success, but instead in having a public facing opinion of a well known place."

both articles are worth reading when you have the time
Honestly, I love that people can learn to appreciate the national parks in some way shape or form, my issue is the lack of common sense education about how to help the national parks from your impact and overall not be stupid. That's partly why I'm leaning more and more towards the Ed Abbey Approach to national parks, but the issues you run into are national parks that are normally used as travel ways (like capitol reef, smokies, yellowstone, etc) and how to deal with that, not to mention the tourist economy these places can rely on. Definitely is a touchy subject, and the unfortunate thing is it's likely not going to get much better.
Yeah...didn't have service on my personal Sprint phone in Yosemite last weekend, but my work phone had signal. I did use it to to text my mom "safe" before sunset and kept it off at all other times, so it was convenient. But I had no desire to use it other than that.

I agree with @Jeffrey Chandler. I am definitely still a noob to the outdoors and while I sometimes feel like I want it to myself, I am glad people are spending some time away, out in nature. Even if it is maybe artificial reasons, like Facebook or Instagram, maybe they will find a true love for outdoors?

What does drive me crazy is the litter and lack of respect for rules and safety. I think rules at these parks will just get MORE and MORE strict. I worry I won't be able to go anywhere in CA without making reservations several months in advance. Then when I get there, people aren't following the process and are thrashing the scenery! Whoooo...okay done venting.
Not only is this impacting National Parks, it's impacting other areas like the Adirondacks in NY State. Granted it's a bit different because it's a mixture of state and private lands inside an arbitrary "imaginary" border (known as "the blue line") but some areas of the Adirondacks are becoming overused to say the least. Exposure via social media has increased hiker traffic in the "high peaks" region as many are attempting to climb "the 46" and earn a patch from the 46er club, and this often ends up like this:
Well, it definitely sucks, there's no doubt. If I had a dollar for everything I see someone running past a sign that says stay off the tundra that takes a hundred years to grow, I'd be rich. And wiring the parks up is IMO, a reason NOT to go to the parks. But having said that, there's a point in making these places accessible to the younger generations. They are, after all, the ones who will be burdened with how to deal with the parks in the future. Perhaps it will become a gateway drug for some that experience the parks and their beauty.

But social media is ridiculous at this point. I can't tell you how many selfie sticks I saw in Yellowstone and Glacier last summer! And I've stopped posting locations for some more quiet, out of the way, less popular places that I know of or find. I'm floored at the growth of visitors at horseshoe bend.

The good news - IF you can find a parking spot in a park, hike a mile in and the amount of visitors becomes much smaller. After another mile or so, you get your solitude.
I'm the philosophical type by both training and inclination, so what follows is a bit of a high-brow rant. My apologies in advance.

You can't have everything. That much is obvious, insofar as you can't have both an oil well and "untouched" wilderness designation on the same plot of earth. Certain land uses are simply incompatible with each other. The same thing applies to National Parks. The fact is, having lots of people "get out there" and enjoy our parks, appreciate their history and the landscape, is simply incompatible with wilderness values of solitude, big openness, no infrastructure, etc. It's not that one of them is good and the other bad; they're both good in their own ways, but incompatible with each other, at least geographically speaking.

Fact is, I do value having approachable, accessible outdoor areas for the Average Jane or Rahul, who don't have the time, resources, experience, or desire to go out backpacking for a week. And the more Average Janes or Rahuls get out there, the more crowded those places are going to be. And that's fine! It means that more people are out there enjoying the outdoors. That's good for all of us. If anything, I think the challenge is to keep innovating in our Parks to keep up with the demand, to ensure a good experience for as many people as possible. So in Zion, that's meant shuttle buses. I'd run twice as many on any given day to reduce wait times, and then export that concept to a lot of other National Parks (with the exception of thru-route parks like CRNP like @Jeffrey Chandler mentioned).

So I say, let them overdevelop them. Let them wait in long lines. 95% of people are still going to have a great, unforgettable experience that they'll recount around the family dinner table for a generation. Wifi? I couldn't care less.

And while everyone else is at Zion, I'll be hanging out in [CENSORED] Wilderness Study Area. :)
Another idea is that human beings are living much, much longer. And that adds to the huge population growth here on Earth. Think about it, we are slowly working our way towards immortality, or at least curing as many diseases as we can. Now, not only do people live much, much longer, but they also are more coherent at older ages. I have routinely visited with people in their 80's and 70's visiting our National Parks, and they are not there because they saw a 21 year old kid take a selfie and post it to Instagram. If anything, they are there because of the tourist industry, both inside the National Parks, and the towns surrounding the parks that thrive on the tourist industry. The tourist industry now uses the internet, and social media, to entice more people to come visit. And the National Parks protect this industry. So they are kind of causing their own problems. West Yellowstone is a great example of this, having huge package deals for large groups of foreigners to come over and visit. And of course, they price gouge. No one talks about that.
I read a lot of old history on Yellowstone, and overcrowding was a huge problem in the 1920's. It's always been a problem, and always will be. Until something happens with the human population, it's only going to get worse. Of course, the human world is on a crash course for something drastic to happen, since AI is already taking place now, and with all the rapid advancing in technology, its' just a short matter of time before things get crazy. Overcrowding in National Parks is going to be the least of human's worries. I always find it kind of funny when people get worked up over stuff like this, and not over things like machines taking over human jobs, or wars being fought with drones. Which is a whole separate topic.

I do not for one minute buy the idea that "social media" is the problem. Unless you count the tourist industry using it. I think jealousy has more to do with blaming social media. This here is social media. People, especially ones that aren't happy or free and out living, tend to want to blame someone else. People that are free, happy, and living life don't waste time blaming anyone for anything.
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Lots of people watching lots of Youtube videos - I would guess Youtube has a much broader reach than any tourist agency. How would you account for more people in places that aren't in the national parks?
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Lots of people watching lots of Youtube videos - I would guess Youtube has a much broader reach than any tourist agency. How would you account for more people in places that aren't in the national parks?
Do you have anything to support that statement?
Those are just a couple of examples I found. It's crazy how the whole thing has blown up. I know one guy who's making around 6k a month off Youtube. You can check out what channels make on a site called
Ehhhh I see social media, like all technology, as a tool. Tools aren't good or bad, they're neutral, ambivalent. It really depends how they're used. The classic example - we can use nuclear fission to generate power, or to blow up our enemies. Our choice.

So then, the problem isn't social media per se, but how we use it. It's a human problem. @Joey mentioned the ballooning population of the world, and the increasing proportion of those who are physically capable of visiting the parks (and of course, the Golden Years crowd gets in basically for free - that's a public policy decision we've made). And to layer on a little bit more, the local population of the areas in which parks are found (predominantly the West and Southwest) are growing even faster. To pick an easy example, St George is the fastest growing metro area in the country, and it's a half hour from Zion, 90 minutes from Bryce, and just a few hours from the Grand Canyon.

So take our use of social media, and a rapidly expanding population, and what you get is more people concentrated into specific places. Zion NP is undoubtedly more crowded than it was 20 years ago, but how about the adjacent wilderness area? Probably not. It just funnels all the people into a few specific places, which get posted over and over on social media. In a way, those places are "sacrificial lambs" - places that lots of people can go visit, while preserving the solitude of other places, which aren't as well-known and that the social media-driven crowd aren't going to.
Now I live here in Jackson Hole right near the parks here in Wyoming. I have been seeing this as with the parks all my life. How much the road areas, etc. in the parks are being hammered bigtime. Also another factor to consider is the populations of India and China and elsewhere that travel these days. Some years ago we were not inundated with these foreign tourists like today. Being also up in Alaska in my travels, I saw how many foreign visitors see Denali Park for instance. And there is the social media. Have been going to Zion for years and seeing the changes. It is only gonna get worse.

But one thing here that people have overlooked. In the backcountry of many of these parks and wilderness areas. There are places that people hardly ever go. In the Teton Wilderness Area, Have seen old campsites being overgrown with grass, old trails being grown over with grass, and more. Some of the back places there are just not that many people. One reason is that a lot of the younger folk don't like going somewhere where there will be no way to use their techno devices. I love how there is not many people some places deep in the backcountry.

Years ago in 1981, hiking from Elkhart Park to Island lake in the Wind Rivers, I saw near 100 people in oneday. I betcha it is not like that today. How many modern day humans have become lazy and refuse to leave the beaten path it seems. We are beating to death those places near the roads accessible by our vehicles. But many deep backcountry wilds are as wild as ever now with few people. Remember the places accessible by road in Yellowstone for instance is just a small small part of the whole park.

Just some observations that I have seen in my years of wanderings. Wishing Everyone the Best!
Excellent point, and it seems a lot of people are afraid to go out in the woods, especially alone. Kind of sad, yet it does help keep things less trampled, but I wonder how much protection such places will get legally when people are afraid to go out there.
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