The results of the election were disheartening. If you’re like me you’re left wondering what it means for our environment and the places where we run, hike, and adventure. Can the new cabinet unravel policies designed to protect our public lands and wildplaces?
“Never doubt a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” ~ Margaret Mead
I shared this quote shortly after the victory for Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. It beautifully affirms the astute perspective of Sally Jewell, outgoing Secretary of the Interior, but more on this later.
In October, I registered for my third Smith Rock Ascent, a trail race in Central Oregon at Smith Rock State Park. It’s one of my favorite races. Spend any time here and you’ll quickly see why. It’s breathtaking from any angle; there’s a reason why Travel Oregon named it one of the Seven Wonders of Oregon.
While our environmental policies will be played out in DC—care for our lands begins at home. Let me repeat that: care for our lands begins at home. As I adventure outside, I frequently see remnants of those who have come before me and relics of our single-use throw-away culture, and am reminded of another powerful quote by environmental advocate, Terri Swearingen:
“We are living on this planet as if we had another one to go to.”
I recently caught up with Scott Brown, Park Manager at Smith Rock State Park (also a longtime family friend). Scott shared visitation to the park has doubled in the last five years—from 400,000 to 800,000 annual visitors. The increase is consistent with what other state and national parks are experiencing. Our parks are strapped for cash and are challenged to keep up with general operations and maintenance.
With increased visitors Smith Rock is feeling it. I asked Scott what’s responsible for the biggest impact? Typically he said “those who don’t understand or obey outdoor ethics.” So park officials teamed up with Leave No Trace this past May to create customized signage based on its familiar principles to help educate and instill a new ethos for park visitors.
With the catchy tagline “Be An Upstander Not A Bystander” Smith Rock officials adopted the following principles:
- Stay on Designated Trails + Established Climber Access
- Control Your Dog at All Times
- Respect Other Visitors
- Be Prepared for Your Recreational Activity
- Leave All Animals and Plant Life as You Find Them
Signage with these five core principles is strategically posted in unusual places throughout the park to catch people’s attention, catch people off-guard, Scott said. I asked him if the signs are making a difference; he thinks they are. These of course, are park edicts we should all follow when visiting any natural area. Imagine the difference if everyone did? Care for our lands begins at home.
Back to Sally Jewel. Outside magazine’s editor Chris Keyes recently had a poignant talk with her about what’s next for the Department of the Interior and the environmental movement; it’s worth a listen. She offers stern advice for what we can do when our wildplaces become vulnerable to politicians’ policy antics:
“This is a democracy and politicians respond to issues they feel are important to their constituents. For those who care about the environment, it is our responsibility to make our positions heard and known…but if people who care about conservation and access to outdoor recreation don’t make their voices heard those who do will be the squeaky wheel and that gets the grease, and that’s what dominates the political cycle. So it’s really important we let our elected official know where we stand.”
Jewell goes on to say “When an elected official takes an action you think undermines those ideas you have around conservation and environmentalism, it’s up to you to let them know it’s not okay, not just for you, but future generations.”
No doubt we’ll face challenges ahead, but success at Standing Rock should give us all a glimmer of hope that together we can be an agent of change. The new administration won’t make it easy for us; it’s going to get ugly, it will be messy. There will be days when I’ll want to pull the covers back over my head and hope I’m dreaming; but I’ll know I’m not, so I’ll get up and do something about it.
I’ll continue to treat wildplaces with respect and support organizations that are advocating on behalf of our environment, as well as volunteer for conservation groups in my community. I’ll contact my elected officials; they’ll know my name. It’s time to be an Upstander not a Bystander—our future depends on it.
Care for our lands begins at home.
Thank you to Margaret Mead, Terri Swearingen, Scott Brown, and Sally Jewell for the inspiration for today’s blog post.