Selling the West


Your latest cover about the West being SHREDDED made me nauseous — not because of the vertigo-inducing image of bikers perched at cliff edge, but because it reminds me that enjoyment of Western public lands is becoming impossible (HCN, 7/20/15). Since my backpacking days are over, my solitude-seeking trips now tend to yield annoyance and irritation instead of joy. I gave up on places like Moab years ago, but now it seems everywhere, no matter how remote, suffers from too many people and machines.

I don’t know how to make this sound less like another rant from another old grouch — maybe by pointing out the hypocrisy of media treatment. For every hand-wringing article or study about how to attract more kids to the backcountry and entice more people of all kinds to the parks, there is a story lamenting destruction of places that are being loved to death. We can’t have it both ways.

I would like to see fewer programs and advertising to attract more people into the outback, such as Utah’s “Mighty 5” program, which has overwhelmed already-crowded national parks. Those who deserve the wild will find it on their own, with a little initiative. Let’s stop inciting herd-based industrial tourism and glamorizing adventure “sports.” (Even colleges compete for applicants by pitching outdoor recreation. Look at the ads in HCN.) But the cat is out of the bag, and there is money to be made selling nature and adventure.

I’m just glad I saw it when the going was good, and I didn’t need a reservation or have to wait in line.

Dennis Slifer, aka “Slickrock Slim”
Lexington, Virginia

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