I had the great opportunity to travel all over Utah this summer and had some unforgettable experiences that forever changed me. From deep in the heart of the Uinta Mountains where I slept outside in freezing cold weather, to the furthest slot in Zion National Park where I hiked all day with a sweat stained t-shirt — and everything in between.
Each experience unique, and like the typical writer each experience left me with a story to tell. For me, hiking and exploring outside is soothing for the soul, creating a peaceful experience for not only myself but those I am with. The speed of the world has changed so much over the years. Everyone always seems to be in such a hurry; always looking at the next event ahead of them that they miss the beauty of the present. The outdoors are a way for individuals to disconnect from the busy, fast paced world that we live in now. With views like this how could you not feel revitalized and recharged?
While I have loved the warm, sunny days filled with adventures, my favorite thing to do this time of year is driving through the canyon with family and friends to visit lakes close to home so we can see the leaves starting to change. Fall just adds that extra cozy feeling to everything you do outside. My favorite lake, Strawberry Reservoir, has given me that home away from home feeling every time I visit. I love to roam through the trees and smell the sage from the open meadows. Here, one will see the deep blue, crisp water and hear the calming sounds of the small waves rippling into shore and feel completely satisfied. This lake is so enticing at this time of year and when you see it in the early hours of the morning and the shards of first light break over the mountain top it truly feels like you are enjoying nature the way it was intended to be.
This beautiful lake not only offers great views and spectacular fishing, but the camp spots placed in the middle of the aspen trees entice visitors from all over the State to come and stay for days. Strawberry Reservoir is a Blue Ribbon Fishery and one of the most popular fishing sites in Utah, receiving more than 1.5 million hours of fishing every year. Although I have been up there numerous times this summer, this last trip left me with a restless feeling and allowed me to reflect on a lot of my summer adventures and connect all of them with one unwelcome aspect.
Every time I go out I always get excited about the off the road camp spots surrounded by trees; however, this time at closer look I was disappointed to see the way one of the sites was left. Garbage was everywhere, broken tents and chairs were thrown in the bushes, trees were hacked down all around the camp site, and ash from multiple fires spilled out all over the grass and saplings. I’m sure that this lake was overly busy and hectic this year because many of the surrounding lakes were shut down due to toxic algae. Utah has never really had problems like this in the past, but with warmer weather and extremely low water levels it became the perfect stagnant breeding ground for this blue-green algae. Luckily it never infected Strawberry, but a lot of other people must have felt this way too because after a summer full of public fishing and camping up there the area just looks worn out and tired.
After seeing this I got to thinking about each adventure I went on and realized that wherever I went I ran into some form of vandalism, or trashed campsite with waste left behind. I’ve seen numerous cans and wrappers thrown into bushes and tucked away into the holes and crevasses of amazing landmarks. Despite the fact that some of the garbage and vandalism was extreme, and some were sights of broken bottles thrown onto the ground, it all left me with the same sad feeling. How can people visit these beautiful, amazing places and then just throw their unwanted trash aside like it doesn’t matter?
National Parks have been fighting problems like this for years. According to Jim Evanoff, environmental protection specialist for Yellowstone National Park, “Yellowstone spends half a million dollars annually to remove 3,000 tons of trash that enters the park each year.” (Ournationalparks.us) This website also lists that Denali National Park in Alaska spends about $75,000 a year to get rid of the 140 tons of garbage that visitors bring into the park. That is an extremely large sum of money spent only in trash removal.
Traveling to Zion National Park this summer in the middle of the peak season had its ups and downs when close to 2 million other tourists traveled through as well. This park is so glamorous with the red cliffs towering over you and each trail offers something new and different to see, so it’s no wonder people flock from all over the world to visit. I absolutely love the red rock there, and I’ve been a repeat visitor for years tackling Angels Landing and the Narrows which are two of the more popular trails that truly are spectacular. The only downside while we were there is that the trails were flooded with tourists and I saw garbage being thrown into the bushes and squirrels diving into brown paper bags to eat their left over snacks. Here all of us were, in this monumental place, and it was almost as if some of these people didn’t have any respect for where they were at. It was so discouraging to see others do this, when they probably would have never done something like that in their own backyard or home.
Although popular parks with whimsical sites that lure in tourists are constantly facing problems like this, they aren’t the only areas where you run into this issue. It was also evident in some of the more isolated regions I went to. Just a few weeks ago I saw this down at the San Rafael Swell which doesn’t generate nearly as much traffic as some of these more popular destination spots. This has easily turned into my go to place when I want to get away from the city. The most appealing aspect of the San Rafael Swell that keeps me coming back over and over again, is that you can go for a hike and see something new and different every time. There are endless mesas and deep canyons to search and explore. When you are there you feel like this area is vast and has been untouched for years and when you sit on the rim of the Wedge with your feet dangling over the side and see the breathtaking views you will know exactly what I am talking about! While the littering in this area isn’t as severe as some of the other places I have seen, it is there, and it is an evident problem even in an isolated spot like this one.
I don’t want to distract from the beauty these places possess by focusing on the negative, but I think it is a topic that needs to be addressed and openly talked about so we can work out solutions. Seeing this over and over again made me realize why more and more trails and dispersed camp sites are getting closed down in hopes of preserving what little is left for future generations. While there are many good stewards of the land, it’s as if they are overshadowed by what may be the one off, the person who ruins it for everyone else. This is what makes a lasting, negative impact for everyone. To some, there isn’t a sense of preservation anymore, and it seems as if these people who were here before me in each and every spot didn’t care about leaving no trace behind. I’m sure they were only there for a few nights with no intention of ever returning so they didn’t think it mattered to them, but what about everyone else that wants to visit after they have left?
After a summer full of tourists shuffling through parks and campgrounds these areas are starting to look overworked, but it doesn’t have to be like this if the people visiting pack out what they pack in. Some parks are starting to put plans into action to help remove unwanted waste, but that can be extremely costly and labor intensive, and there are still the places we go that aren’t managed and don’t have these trash removal systems that need to be cared for too. With statistics like these for both National and State Parks and massive amounts of people funneling through these areas every season we need to make sure that we aren’t leaving a wake of destruction in our paths.
We need to find a way to balance out enjoying the outdoors without destroying it. When I go out to camp and explore I always try to leave each place I pass through better than I may have found it and pick up the garbage I see even though it isn’t mine. We need to actively make others aware of this and work together to solve this problem so we aren’t forever tiptoeing around the subject without any real solutions in store. May we all take a little more time to clean up after ourselves and help others understand the need for them to do this as well because this is the only way we will be able to preserve our favorite places for generations to come.
Melanie McDonald is a writer and outdoors-lover. You can read more of her writing on her blog, Adventure 57.