Respecting our National Parks: It's Up To Us

Last summer I lived a stone's throw away from two of our nation's most pristine national parks. Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park. As you can imagine, I saw a lot of tourists. And I do mean a lot.

Envision driving down the highway on your way to town. Routine grocery run. The Cheerios need milk and the cat needs kibble.

The Open Road - ©️ Nicole Atkins

The Open Road - ©️ Nicole Atkins

But wait! You're in Wyoming, where the buffalo roam free to nosh in the meadow next to the highway. Pretty cool, right? Yeah! The driver in front you agrees, so they slam on their brakes to get a better look. That's right, coming to a complete stop right in the middle of the highway. With you behind them, cruising at a healthy 60mph. Look, I get it. Buffalo are badass. But dude, the highway!!

 

 

The way I see it, you've got three choices:

  1. Slam on your brakes, hoping you don't take out their rear bumper, and chill in your car with some Bob Marley. After all, not everyone gets to see this level of awesome on the daily.
  2. Keep driving, right into the ass end of their rental car. Let's hope they're responsible enough to opt in for the coverage.
  3. Slide open that sunroof, stand up on your seat, and let loose a mighty roar fierce enough to make the driver and the buffalo retreat in fear.

Anyone who has lived near a popular park knows how maddening groups of tourists can be. I hate to harp on Yellowstone, and it’s not their fault. But, some of the most appalling behavior I've seen was in that park. I often feel like a renegade park Ranger when I'm there.

Roadside Bison -  Nicole Atkins

Roadside Bison -  Nicole Atkins

I've stopped counting the times I told people to step away from the very large, very wild, very dangerous bison. My favorite has to be the woman who was inching her way closer to a nursing bison. The murderous look in Momma Bison's eyes should have been enough to deter her. I calmly asked this woman for her address so I could show up to her own house next time she was nursing her child. Maybe she just needed to know how it feels. A little empathy can go a long way.

Or the time a teenage girl was dangling her grimy feet in a geyser 3 feet from a sign telling her to stay out of it. I was kind enough to warn her she should expect her skin to decay in the next 2-3 weeks (hence the signs- for her safety). Was I lying? Damn right. Kids, sometimes we have to lie for the advancement of the greater good. Life is complicated.

Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone - Nicole Atkins

Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone - Nicole Atkins

I don't think I've seen a teenager run that fast, outside of school sports or a mall sale.

More importantly, though, none of the fifty or more people standing around said a single thing to her. Many of them just stood and gawked, shaking their head. They knew it was wrong, so why not mention it? I’m sure several of them would have been more tactful about it than I was.

Why people feel the need to profess their undying love by carving it into a tree or boulder is beyond me. I can only hope that Cletus returns to the park with his future wife who will inevitably ask who the hell Tammy Mae is.

Prez Obama Selfie - ©️ Buzzfeed

Prez Obama Selfie - ©️ Buzzfeed

And don't get me started on selfie sticks. It's like walking through an obstacle course the way you have to dodge those things. Sometimes I imagine cartwheeling my way through the park, collecting as many selfie sticks as I can. Each one earns me coins, which I can then trade for something useful, like a waffle cone maker or Laserdiscs.

I could go on with the ridiculous things I’ve seen tourists do. I don’t need to because others have done it for me. Several lists of one-star Yelp reviews for national parks have come out. Yellowstone itself has seen their fair share of silly questions from the tourism crowd.

Crowd of Tourists at Old Faithful - ©️ Yellowstone NPS

Crowd of Tourists at Old Faithful - ©️ Yellowstone NPS

Tourism is a tricky beast. We’ve all been a tourist. Individually, most tourists are congenial creatures who just want to enjoy the beauty and awe the national parks inspire. But pack them into crowds and they morph into a mysterious force that strikes confusion into the heart of the most seasoned sociologists.

I generally don’t make a habit of teasing tourists, but I need them to help me make a point. The national parks are for all of us to enjoy. While I poke fun at tourists my point is it’s important to speak up. If you see someone violating our shared space, or putting anyone in danger, say something. Look, I get it. We’ve all fallen victim to the bystander effect at some point.

But really, if you see someone jamming their leg into a geyser full of bacteria, put a stop to that nonsense.

Artist Paint Pots Geyser in Yellowstone - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Artist Paint Pots Geyser in Yellowstone - ©️ Nicole Atkins

This way we can all keep being tourists at these amazing places that make our country unique. The longer we keep the parks pristine, the longer we can enjoy what they have to offer. It's up to all of us.

The good news is, Yellowstone is such a massive piece of land, it’s easy to get away from the crowds.  The backcountry is substantial. You can hang out with herds of buffalo when you tire of running with the herds of people. You should check it out sometime if you haven’t already.

Madison Valley in Yellowstone - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Madison Valley in Yellowstone - ©️ Nicole Atkins

 

Do you have any memorable tourism stories during your outdoor adventures? Tell us about them! We love stories.

 

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