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Pledge to Protect our National Parks

As record crowds continue to descend upon our national parks and wild places and funding is drastically cut for our parks, we need to step up and do more as adventurers who frequent these awesome places. The National Park Foundation (@goparks on instagram) started a new hashtag pledge with #pledgetoprotect. Here are a few ways we can do that in our parks.

By: Brynn Schmidt + Save to a List

My favorite places to spend time are in our national parks. I grew up going to them each summer with my family and winters were spent in Yosemite, learning to ski at Badger Pass when I was young. I have continued that love for our parks and wild places and most of our vacations and weekends away involve camping, hiking, backpacking, nature photography and rock climbing in these places.  I really don't feel like I could live without the wide expanses of land and wildlife surrounding me. However, as social media and the internet has increased park travel by staggering numbers, the park service is having a very difficult time keeping up with the crowds and monitoring everyone who visits. Another important development is that our president has plans to "cut 1.5 billion dollars, or 12 percent, from the Interior Department, which oversees the park service and other agencies". (New York Times, April 3, 2017).  I cannot even imagine what this will do to the current strains on our wild lands.

The National Park Service started a campaign on Instagram to use the hashtag #pledgetorprotect for those of us to use who will take care of our parks. They have not really made this into anything big yet and I don't even see many people using the hashtag yet, but maybe we can change that. Our parks are overcrowded and many of us will now only venture out in the early morning or evening when most tourists have gone to their lodging or meals. We also get out in the backcountry more and that helps, but these areas are getting more crowded as well.

Here are a few things that we adventurers should be doing in our parks:

1. Keep a safe distance from wildlife at all times. 

Use a zoom lens to get that great photo but do not walk up to wildlife in the parks. There are rules and they need to be followed not only to protect us, but to protect the wildlife and allow them to live as much of a normal life as possible. If you have ever been a part of a bear jam, you know how hard it can be on these animals. In most parks you need to stay at least 25 yards away from wildlife and give bears and wolves 100 yards. We need to model this for others, especially tourists who are not used to seeing these animals in nature. Also, I honestly have no problem telling visitors to back away from an animal when they are about to get speared by an elk or tossed by a bison. 

2. Follow general park rules - seriously. 

Get the correct permits for backpacking and other activities when needed. Again, I think that this community can have such a positive impact if we model the behavior that we want to see from others in the parks. Do it right the first time. Follow all rules such as "pack it in, pack it out" - don't leave anything behind and follow the "Leave no Trace" policy set for wild lands. There should be no signs of you having been there. And this one gets me - camp far enough away as is required from rivers and lakes if you are in the backcountry. The amount of images posted on Instagram that show people camping on a lake in a national park are either just set up for the photo and then moving (which seems fine to me) or they are breaking park rules. You have to stay in designated areas for the most part even when you have a backcountry permit - do it. Don't ruin it for everyone else. One other important rule is regarding camping in bear country. I cannot emphasize this enough - please follow all rules in bear country regarding food storage. A fed bear is a dead bear and I have seen so many irresponsible campers in places like Yellowstone. Please protect our wildlife. 

3. Do your part to make the parks better places. 

Pick up trash that you find when hiking. Engage with tourists who don't know the parks as well as you do and help them gain a real appreciation for where they are. Set an example for all who you meet while in our parks. Camp responsibly, park responsibly, etc. I will totally admit that I have failed at that last one. When a grizzly is nearby on a hillside or a wolf is near the road, it is really hard to not just stop and take a photo. Guilty. I am always working on being better myself in all situations. Let's just all try and do our best at this.

4. Use the hashtag #pledgetoprotect with your social media posts of photos in our national parks. 

Only use this hashtag if you truly do agree to practice principles that protect our wild places. If you are in Yellowstone, take the Yellowstone Pledge on their site and use the hashtag #yellowstonepledge as well. Let's show others that we care about our parks. Also, don't forget to use the Outbound hashtag for protecting the wild as well, #protectthewild

I don't know what our national parks are going to look like as their funding gets cut while record numbers of visitors happen every summer. The only thing that we can do is to do our best as adventurers to set a good example and protect the places we love. Let's remember that a sweet instagram photo isn't worth it if you are engaging in poor park behavior. 

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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