Tag Archive 'backcountry ethics'

Sep 05 2008

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Managing Wildness

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A copy of Adirondac, the Adirondack Mountain Club publication, appeared in my mailbox the other day. I immediately cracked it open and looked for some provocative article to read. The ADK rarely disappoints on that count. I found an article titled “There’s a Reason for the Rules,” in which a club member defended some of the more controversial DEC regulations recently applied to the Eastern High Peaks. My blood boiled right away.

Last year I shelled out seventy bucks for a bear resistant canister so that I could legally backpack into the Dix Mountain Wilderness, which I believe is subject to Eastern High Peaks rules. Yep, that’s right. Can’t just sling my food bag in the trees like I have for the past 30-odd years. Gotta have a big, heavy plastic can for the bears to kick around. Well, okay. Bears are a problem in the High Peaks, so I went along with it. Then I returned home from my trip to find out I could have been issued a fine anyway, for building a campfire out there and having my dog off leash.

Right now I have backpacking gear laid out on the floor of an extra bedroom. I’m getting ready for a 5-day excursion into the Adirondacks – with my dog, of course. We won’t be going to the High Peaks, that’s for certain. The DEC rules are more relaxed in every other part of the Adirondack Park. I will land in a place where few people go, build a campfire the size of a pie pan, and stare into it for a several hours after cooking my dinner on it. I call this meditation. Others call it a violation of backcountry ethics.

I fully understand the need to regulate high-use areas like the High Peaks. On many occasions I have hiked the battered trails leading to the Park’s highest summits. Often I have passed so many people on the trail that it hardly felt like a wilderness experience at all. I’ve seen neophyte backpackers drag small trees to fire pits and torch them as if deep woods is the perfect place for a bonfire. I’ve seen dogs chase deer to exhaustion, wild animals open up backpacks full of food, and mountain streams tainted by soap suds. I’ve personally picked up enough trash scattered around shelters to fill my car once over, at least.

Yeah, I know exactly what the rules are for, but I also know that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) is a state bureaucracy that thrives on the endless creation of rules, and that there are enough eco-fundamentalist zealots in both the DEC, the ADK, and elsewhere to impose fixed, one-way worldviews on the rest of us. And anyone who objects is a selfish, nature-hating troglodyte.

Where will the rules end? You can use your cell phone in case of an emergency, by the way. Think about it. Cell phones and bear cans are in; campfires are out. This is not the natural world of John Muir, Henry David Thoreau or Verplanck Colvin. This is the wild managed, the backcountry with signs telling you what you can and cannot do, the canned wilderness experience. Must it come to this?

Next week I’ll go deep into the woods with my dog, doing my best to avoid contact with the rule-makers of all stripes who dominate the civilized world. I desperately need a break from their bullshit. And when the DEC starts breathing down my neck this year or next, I’ll go elsewhere, to more remote places, like a mountain lion or a grizzly bear, until there’s no truly wild country left. I, too, am on the endangered species list it seems. That’s okay. Nothing’s meant to last forever – not even wilderness or those who thrive in it.

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