I’m about a quarter mile from one of my favorite trail heads at Sugar Hollow reservoir, located 15 miles outside of Charlottesville, Virginia. It’s a typical Saturday morning in May, cool temperatures, clear skies, and I’m filled with the normal anticipation before my weekly long run in Shenandoah National Park. However, on this May morning, I notice something that has become more and more familiar, a long line of cars parked along the gravel road near the trail head. I finally make my way to the actual parking area and can’t believe the number of cars already there.
Fast forward just a few weeks later. I’m back in Colorado, my second home. Today, I’m cruising sweet single-track on the Peaks Trail just above Breckenridge. It’s a beautiful, early summer day with blue skies and perfect trail conditions. On my traverse from Breckenridge to Frisco, Colorado – a distance of about 12 miles – I typically see one or two mountain bikers, but seldom anyone else. However, things seem to be changing. Lately, I encounter many more mountain bikers, hikers and even trail runners.
As I approach Frisco and run along the single-track trail above stunning Rainbow Lake, I see a ranger with whom I’ve become friends. I tell him that there seem to be more and more trail users these days. He confirms they have recently started to feel the effects of more visitors. Their already thin resources, who provide the best possible experience for visitors, just aren’t enough anymore. I lean in closer and whisper, “Green has become the new black!” He laughs and agrees.
My theory, that the great outdoors have become more popular, seems to be supported by National Park Service (NPS) statistics. The NPS reported 330,882,751 visitors to our National Parks in 2017. U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke commented, “…our National Parks are being loved to death.” As visitor rates continue at a high level, we must prioritize much-needed deferred maintenance including aging facilities, roads and other critical infrastructure.”
Yes, green seems to be the Zeitgeist. Is this a good or bad thing? I lean toward good.
People must have a connection to something in order to protect it. For many National Park users, just leaving their car and walking to an overlook can be a life changing experience. For others, it’s sharing time with friends or loved ones in a place they will remember for many years to come. We should encourage first-time users and others to take advantage of our National Parks system and promote conservation through reasonable use.
Then, just maybe, the next time they are asked to support funding for our Parks, they will think back to that special day and make it possible for others.
James Russell Gill III (Gill) is a professional ultra-endurance runner and owner and CEO of Bad to the Bone Sports. Together, Gill and Francesca have turned passion into a lifestyle and can always be found on top of a mountain searching for the next challenge.