I recently came across a blog post that took issue with a Sierra magazine article written by one of the writers of Ken Burns's new series The National Parks. The article, "Collect 'em All," was about Dayton Duncan's quest to visit all 58 national parks, and the blogger took issue with the idea that the Sierra Club would promote such an activity. So-called park bagging "leave(s) a massive carbon footprint" and is "an elitist pursuit, a game that very few can play," says Keith Goetzmann, an environmental editor at Utne Reader.
Goetzmann raises some interesting points, most notably that we should
get to know the land intimately. Better that we should acquaint ourselves with one, two, or a few parks very well than attempt to superficially survey them all in baseball-card-collector fashion.
And who could disagree? I think we might all agree with Kent Ryden, who says in Mapping the Invisible Landscape, "A sense of place results gradually and unconsciously from inhabiting a landscape over time, becoming familiar with its physical properties, accruing history within its confines." This sense comes from living on a piece of land, and from hiking the same trails over and over again. It is a worthy pursuit. But one can know the land without being married to it – intimacy in this case does not mean cutting oneself off from other vistas.
Duncan acknowledges in his article that simply passing through a park is no great feat. He quotes John Muir: "Nothing can be done well at a speed of forty miles a day. . . . Far more time should be taken." And it seems time is really the issue here. For hitting every national park in the span of one, two, or a few years would mean that you would have to travel fast and could only gain the most superficial understanding of these lands. But Duncan made his visits over the course of a half century. Surely there is enough time in five decades to experience both a sense of place in one's home, and to see the majesty of many -- if not all -- of the national's greatest treasures.
But if it is possible in a lifetime to visit all of the national parks, is it not elitist to do so? This question is a good one, and it can be asked to all people heading out into "nature." I don't think there is anything more elitist about the national parks than other lands. Yes, there is a fee to get in, but as we are reminded in Burns's film, the parks are for the people. As Duncan says in his article
these sacred places are not only to be preserved "unimpaired," but are also to be accessible to the people. They are to be shared--shared now, and also shared with the future, just as people from our past shared them with us.The parks are a democratic concept. They are not locked up for the wealthy, but rather set aside for everyone. Of course, that does not mean that everyone visits them. I once spoke to a resident of Moab, Utah, who leads outdoor trips, and he told me that 80 percent of the schoolchildren in town had never been to Arches or Canyonlands National Park. That's a spectacular percentage, if accurate, given that Moab is a stone's throw from both parks.
We cannot ignore climate, of course, and it is reasonable to question how much we fly or drive our cars. But in the course of a lifetime, surely there are some pilgrimages worth making. For some it is a holy site in Rome or Mecca, for others the Cathedral in the Desert, and for one man, at least, it is Paka O Amerika Samoa, 7,000 miles from his home in New Hampshire.
I'm on vacation this coming week through Labor Day and, because I can't decide which mountains I'd like to hike this time, I bought a last-minute ticket for Burning Man.
While I'm off being a Burner for a week, I want Trails fans to keep the home fires burning -- and I want a lot of friends to greet me when I get back from the desert.
To that end, I've cooked up a little challenge. The Trails member who gets the most friends to register on Trails and send me a friend request by midnight on Sept. 8 (Labor Day) will receive their choice of a brand new Primus ETA Power Stove or Therm-a-Rest Woman's Trail Lite mattress (sorry, I only have a woman's). AND their friends who sign up and friend me will get a Sierra Club daypack (at least until I run of daypacks, but I have a couple of dozen brand new ones).
Not only that -- but the first person who gets at least one friend to register and then friend me will get a nifty backpacking chair. And that first new friend will get a daypack, too!
Here's how it goes:
Invite your friends to become members of the Trails community. Go to your Dashboard (you can get to it in the green Trails banner at the top of each page when you're logged in), and on the left you'll see "Invite Friends." Click on that and you can then click on a link that lets you choose email addresses from your address book.
Send the following message (customize it, if you like) to your friends:
I'm having fun finding cool trails to hike in the new Sierra Club Trails community. I think you'll enjoy it, too. If you sign up before Labor Day, you'll put me in the running for some cool outdoor gear -- and if I win, you could receive a free Sierra Club daypack.
Please register here (it's quick and easy!)
and then, while you're logged in, visit Tioga Jenny's profile
and click on the "Connect as a Friend" link in the Interact box at the upper left. In the message box, be sure to mention my name and email address.
[your name and email address]
After a few days, send a reminder to your friends!
I'll miss Trails while I'm gone, but I hope to return to lots of happy friend requests! My Trails friend Zheem promises to answer any questions on this post.
My parents gave me the great outdoors, first with car camping, followed by weekend overnight backpack trips, and ultimately with two-week-long backpacking adventures that made me lose track of what day it was.
The backpacking was organized through Girl Scouting. My mom was a leader (as well as the nature lady at a camp in the Sierra Nevada). My dad helped lead our trips--and I think at one point was an official Girl Scout. It only embarrassed me a few times to have my parents so intimately involved with my circle of girlfriends who were all in the troop, and who shared my passion for making bikinis out of bandanas and sitting river- or lake-side all afternoon after we set up camp, reading and working on our tans.
My mom continued to backpack and climb mountains until she passed away in 1995 at age 63. This past Mother's Day, a friend from those Girl Scout backpacking days commented that we thought my mom was just taking us out hiking, "but she was really teaching us to be leaders and building our self-esteem." My dad, now 81, was recently hiking in the Donner Pass area, around 7,000 feet elevation.
I'll always be grateful that they taught me to appreciate the natural world such that it's now my "home"--wherever it is.
I'm wondering--who gave you the great outdoors? Set you up with your first pair of hiking boots? Strapped on your skis? Introduced you to the goodness of food cooked over an open fire or taught you how to cast a line?
Please share. I'd like to meet 'em.
This morning on the CBS Early Show, Bill was honored as one of "Early's Angels," and that's exactly what he is. You've got to watch the 10-minute clip -- it's amazing, inspiring, tears-inducing stuff.
We at the Sierra Club already knew about Bill because he's one of the lead volunteer working with our Building Bridges to the Outdoors program. Sierra magazine featured Bill and some of his students in an article a couple of years ago.Watch the CBS clip and you'll meet Leo Morazan, who got caught in an act of vandalism three years and was given a second chance by joining Bill's Eco Club. Leo went on to be president of the club, is on the honor roll, and is college-bound with the dream of being a park ranger. "I probably wouldn't even be able to graduate if it weren't for him," he says of Bill. And Cynthia Rivas, who'd never spent time in nature, and had no plans to go to college -- until Angel Bill came into her life. Now she's at U.C. Berkeley, double-majoring in Conservation Resource Studies and Forestry. She hopes to get a master's degree in Environmental Management at Yale.
You want to feel some hope for the future? Watch the clip. And next time you get outside--take a teenager with you!