I don't hike often in Elk Meadow anymore, the county park near my home in Evergreen, Colo. I don't hike often in Boulder's open space parks, either. And I don't hike any more in Rocky Mountain National Park. Everywhere I look our local and national wild places are crowded with ecology-minded recreationists, and I am trying not to be one of them, anymore. I do not want to be one of those who force land managers to enlarge parking areas, harden trails, install grandiose outhouses and picnic tables, and on the busiest summer weekends, engage a cop to manage the cars that build up around a park's perimeter.
Neighboring Elk Meadow is so thick
with hikers, joggers, riders, dogwalkers and mountain bikers on the
weekends that they jockey for position on the trails. Inevitably
one party or another is forced off pathways and into the
wildflowers or wetlands. Of course the trails must then be widened
- again - to accommodate larger throngs.
backwoods ethic continues to limit itself to staying on trails and
carrying out litter, we will only be beating around so many bushes.
The point is that to really do some good Out There, we who love the
land to death need to give it a rest. The concept isn't new;
resting or rotating land use is common to other users, from farmers
and gardeners to fishers and hunters.
hikers and other wildland recreationists became a kind of glorified
livestock trampling the ground, environmental organizations
encouraged people to go into the backcountry so that strong
political constituencies for nature preservation would form. But
these days, going into wilderness is not the best way to save
The most conscious attempts to give
productive lands a rest were codified 3,000 years ago. The word
"sabbatical" first occurs in the Biblical book of Leviticus: Recall
that it did not mean the paid vacation from teaching that college
professors take every seventh year.
sabbatical referred to what the ancient Jews observed on their
lands after six years of cultivation and intense use. Agricultural
land was granted "a sabbath of complete rest" in the seventh year.
Some Bible scholars contend that strict adherence to sabbaticals
for several centuries enhanced the productivity of the arid Judean
lands to the point that they could be described as flowing with
milk and honey.
Yet after all these millennia,
outdoor recreationists cling to a religious belief in an open
season, year after year. Access to public lands, we proclaim just
as stridently as ranchers, loggers and hunters, is our supreme,
In the true spirit of Western
individualism, we ought not wait for the bureaucrats to tell us
where and when we cannot go; we ought to take the responsibility of
choosing not to go somewhere ourselves.
deeper into less traveled backcountry is no answer to local
crowding, since it is only a matter of time before the rest of the
It is time that recreationists
support a nationwide system of rest-rotations for our parks and
natural areas. Apart from the beneficial rest the land would get,
such a system might also strengthen our political position when we
petition for grazing allotment reductions, or lower timber
The Sabbatical for the Land Society
costs nothing to join. You can become a member by not going to Elk
Meadow next weekend. Or to Rocky Mountain National
Dyan Zaslowsky writes
articles and books in Evergreen, Colorado.