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Are more backpackers a good thing?
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Nathan Hays

Locale: San Francisco
Are more backpackers a good thing? on 05/03/2012 10:27:11 MDT Print View

Introducing more people to backpacking is enlightening to society. However, it has a negative impact on the wilderness. I am conflicted. I really like getting off trail, just my wife and I alone for miles. I am jealous of that experience and don't want to see it crowded out. On the other hand, I think society is rather imbalanced and does not do well at raising children to be aware of our impact on the planet. Backpacking is life changing in that regard.

How do you feel about bringing more people into the wilderness?

Stephen Barber
(grampa) - MLife

Locale: SoCal
Insoluble dilemma on 05/03/2012 10:39:29 MDT Print View

I feel the same conflict.

In order to have the political power to save wilderness areas, we need more and more people to have a personal investment in the wilderness. but more people with a personal investment in the wilderness means more folks in my favorite backpacking areas. And there already are too many areas I won't go to because of the crowded conditions.

I don't see any way out of this dilemma.

Elliott Wolin
(ewolin) - MLife

Locale: Hampton Roads, Virginia
Re: Are more backpackers a good thing? on 05/03/2012 11:26:00 MDT Print View

An emphatic YES!

The only way to stop the relentless, often short-sighted profit-motivated pressure to develop every square inch of our wild areas is to have vastly more people on our side (you need vastly more because the other side has vastly more money and power). Fewer backpackers (and fishermen, etc.) may mean better experiences for us, but less for our descendants. The solution to overcrowded backcountry areas is more protected backcountry areas, not fewer people.

John Doe
(jessearl) - F
Don't exaggerate your impact on 05/03/2012 12:02:07 MDT Print View

The planet is here for our enjoyment and it'll still be here long after you've taken your last breath. Don't exaggerate your impact and just enjoy it.

David Drake
(DavidDrake) - F

Locale: North Idaho
Re: Are more backpackers a good thing? on 05/03/2012 12:04:24 MDT Print View

Seems I've read interest in backpacking has actually declined since the 70s and 80s, although this may be as percentage of population, rather than absolute numbers.

Regardless, in my view the primary importance of wilderness isn't scenic beauty (in our eyes) or opportunities for (human) solitude. I love those aspects of wilderness, but the way large tracts of roadless wilderness work as functioning ecologies is a lot more important (wildlife migration routes, plant and animal habitat, clean watersheds, etc).

What we really need are *more* wild lands and roadless areas, and we should be pushing for that, rather than (implicity) accepting the wilderness we have now is all we're ever going to get, and then trying to ration human traffic there.

We should be looking at abandoned rural and rural/industrial land (eg, areas once used for mining, power production, logging, ranching etc) as candidates for new roadless wilderness. Here in the West, there are a lot of small towns that won't exist in a few decades, and extractive industries that have declined and will continue to decline. Wilderness areas created from former settlement won't be the same as that enshrined in the Wilderness Act of 1964 (" area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain..") but that ideal was largely a myth anyway.

One of the wilderness areas I'm fond of (Hells Canyon) had a much larger human population 50 or 100 years ago than today. The remnants of past settlement are an interesting part of the human experience backpacking there. Plenty of other areas have the same potential.

Dave Foreman's _Rewilding North America_ lays out a pretty interesting vision for the future of wilderness, and the necessity for functioning and connected ecosystems, not just scenic parkland. Roderick Nash's _Wilderness and the American Mind_ is also very good, particularly for showing how American attitudes toward wilderness have changed over the past couple hundred years.

Paul Wagner
(balzaccom) - F

Locale: Wine Country
Re: Re: Are more backpackers a good thing? on 05/03/2012 19:09:42 MDT Print View

What elliot said.

Every person in the backcountry is a voter who can help move this country towards a more respectful policy. We need as many as we can get!

Daniel Cox
(COHiker) - F

Locale: San Isabel NF
Eh. on 05/03/2012 19:45:17 MDT Print View

Backpackers, yes for the most part.
Campers, no.

I've seen a lot of negative impact in the last 7 years living here in CO. Most of it is due to irresponsible campers of the vehicle persuasion. This extends to people buying a 90L backpack at REI and drag 40 lbs of junk 3 miles from the car, build a bonfire, and pee in the stream.

I'm all for people getting outdoors to appreciate nature. But appreciate it, not trample it.

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Its Public Land on 05/03/2012 19:54:39 MDT Print View

Its public land so its use will be determined ultimately by what the public demands. More backpackers mean more people who prioritize wilderness preservation over logging or cutting new ATV trails.

Brian Lewis
(brianle) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
Trails are mostly empty ... on 05/04/2012 01:16:44 MDT Print View

Most trails are quite empty most of the time; I think we get the sense that trails are crowded when we leave our city and go to a relatively close trailhead on a sunny summer weekend. Hike less popular trails or hike at less popular times, or even go where there aren't trails and ... no worries.

I don't mean to be completely flip here, I do understand that most people are constrained in when and where they can go for the most part. But for someone who can think and act a little out of the box, the crowds really aren't that hard to beat. And I'm very much in favor of introducing more people to the backcountry, if for nothing else than in the hope of creating more advocates who appreciate and want to preserve what we've got.

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
Re: Trails are mostly empty ... on 05/04/2012 07:55:15 MDT Print View

Yeah, I pretty much agree with Brian. Pushing for more people in the back country has good and bad points. Pushing for more education about the back country, well, education is ALWAYS good.

Conservation? Preservation? For what? I question whether we can support the number of people in one city in the back country. But, keeping what we have is essential. And keeping it wild is also esential. We think we know about the ecology? Not true. We are only *just* recognizing that people are a PART of the ecology...well within the last 50 or so years. Perhaps the last couple hundred years counting Darwin. Perhaps the past couple of thousand years counting the clasical Greeks. At the forfront of that effort is the thousands of people, like Brian, that simply want to go out there and see. A true scientist does not *expect* anything. Observation is the first step. The past few years shows we are starting to be aware of this. Hikers simply observe, without changing. Though, some will argue that the act of observation will effect the observed. Communicating those changes has always been difficult, till twenty or thirty years ago. This will fade into the fabric of people.

Change happens regardless, soo, we can simply maintain a foot hold on the wild. A few, a very few, will venture beyond the beaten path and look deeper. What do we do when oil runs out? What do we do when mines run out? What do we do when water runs out? When a rock drops on my head? People will change. The beaten path for most...the trailess wilderness for a few. This echo's down through the centuries to the beginnings of life. This seems to be an essential part of being. People are a part of the widerness whether they ever visit it or not. Maintain what you can, educate when you can and simply hike on...

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re: Are more backpackers a good thing? on 05/04/2012 16:46:14 MDT Print View

Hi Elliot

> The solution to overcrowded backcountry areas is more protected backcountry areas,
> not fewer people.

A good thought.


Sean Heenan

Locale: Southeast mountains
More backpackers? on 05/05/2012 11:17:48 MDT Print View

While I like to see more backpackers, I also see the downside to this. Many areas are overused and many times places I go, I'm hardly alone. As it is when you leave the trailhead and hike for about 4 miles you are about to leave most of the dayhikers behind. Keep going about 10 miles and the weekend backpackers drop off after that you pretty much are on your own. That said I am also a dayhiker, a weekend backpacker, and a deep country backpacker, it is just a matter of time for all three. The weekend backpackers are really the ones who probably do the most damage because they hike into more sensative areas and there are lots of them(me included). My favorite places are also everyone elses favorite places and on some weekends the no vacany sign is on.

Hk Newman
(hknewman) - MLife

Locale: Western US
Re: Are more backpackers a good thing? on 05/05/2012 11:43:45 MDT Print View

Think we need to break up some roads going into the forests and parks, and turn them into trail; set the trailheads back, so the land can heal. Need to save federal money anyways, right?

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
Are more backpackers a good thing? on 05/05/2012 13:18:07 MDT Print View

Closing roads to trailheads and therefore restricting access is being used by the USFS in western Washington as a budget cutting measure. It seems that the budget for decomissioning roads is separate from the operating budget, and the former, unlike the latter, has plenty of funds.

The result is simply to crowd the day and weekend hikers into smaller areas, making things that much more crowded in the areas that are left!

Rather than restrict people from the back country, we instead need to accept the wear and tear close to the trailheads. The more people are restricted from the back country, the smaller the constituency we have to preserve wilderness. Do remember that the various Wilderness Acts are neither acts of God nor part of the US Constitution; they can be repealed by Congress at any time! If we close the access roads and thus restrict dayhikers, weekenders and, especially, families with young children from accessing wilderness, there will come a time when there won't be any wilderness because there will be nobody to advocate for it!

Edited by hikinggranny on 05/05/2012 13:52:17 MDT.

K ....
(Kat_P) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Coast
Re: Are more backpackers a good thing? on 05/05/2012 13:29:44 MDT Print View

I agree with Mary.
Also, if you live in a relatively ( !) crowded state, in a relatively crowded city and are upset if after a two hour drive and an hour of hiking you are not completely alone, then maybe you should rethink this a bit.
I live in the woods and work in the woods and spend a lot of time alone in nature; when I go backpacking I am not looking to get away from a hectic city life and I don't mind running into people that enjoy and appreciate being out in the mountains. I prefer social interactions that center around nature, versus around town stuff. If I really want to be alone there are plenty of places out there where I can still find that.
I also doubt that there will ever be too many backpackers, with the trend being more of staying indoors and watching nature on a screen while getting fat.

Nathan Hays

Locale: San Francisco
Proper introduction on 05/05/2012 13:58:20 MDT Print View

Brought my nephews up into the backcountry on a day hike. Saw rattlesnake, bear, deer. Each encounter was handled in a different way, but calmly, without fear or excitement.

I was picking up trash that others had left and one nephew chided me for touching other peoples' garbage. I muttered there were no street sweepers up here and continued.

When one had to use the nearby pit toilet, another asked what you do further in where there are none. "Dig a hole, do your business, and carry out the TP in a baggie." "Yuck!" "Well, the alternative is to have used TP blowing around and someone having to pick that up."

Understated = understood. A lesson that will percolate up in them from time to time, hopefully brewing a healthy cup of persective.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - M

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Re: Are more backpackers a good thing? on 05/05/2012 14:28:25 MDT Print View

There are always really remote and uncrowded places to camp. They might not be as pretty or cool with massive granite peaks and rushing waterfalls.