Trap of the Day: National Parks

It’s National Parks month and today’s trap of the day is the National Parks Trap.

In this trap you’ll find Timothy Egen’s recent op/ed in the New York Times about safety and personal responsibility in our National Parks. The article is spurred by a three fold increase in deaths in Yosemite this year (16 so far) and litigation surrounding the mauling death of a hiker by mountain goat last year. Egen highlights how disconnected many Americans are from the wilderness and makes the case that nature is dangerous and no amount of warnings, signs, or fencing can change that.

This sort of opinionating to me seems a no-brainer, but the fact of the matter is we live in a country where many folks have grown up in an environment so disconnected from the wild part of wilderness as to expect unrealistic levels of security within it’s bounds. A country bumpkin who gets mugged on a dangerous urban street corner can’t sue the city or police for failing to prevent the attack but for some reason people expect higher levels of safety from parks, which are really much less regulated spaces than urban centers. Where does personal responsibility begin and to what extent are National Park rangers charged to keep us safe? How do you educate city/suburb dwellers on the potential dangers of nature without terrifying them (ala shark attack coverage)?

When I was in the 5th grade my teacher taught a wilderness survival course. We learned about edible (and poisonous) plants, started fires with sticks, made hypothetical survival kits, and even whittled knives and forks. I was taught how to to fight a mountain lion (be loud, tall and kick it in the stomach if you can) and to never run from a bear (be calm, stand your ground, play dead if it’s mauling you, and fight like hell if it starts to eat you). This sort of lesson planning was no doubt unique to my rural Washington school where regional black bear encounters were not entirely rare, but it was the sort of thing that taught me to respect and maintain a healthy, but not overwhelming, fear of what nature is capable of.

The kind of nature preserved in our national parks is not to be taken lightly or capable of being tamed. For a vignette into the history of the National Parks system, check out this archival image heavy post from the Smithsonian Visual Archives.


Leave a Reply