By now, I’m sure most people are aware of the effects the ongoing partial US Govt Shutdown is having on National Park services – the new cycles have been filled with reports of vandalism, illegal camping, destruction of property, overflowing trashcans, filled pit toilets, etc.

I’m struggling to understand why, in a way that gives me any answer other than “people are just awful.”  I hate feeling this way, but I can’t help it.

I understand that National Parks are a gateway to uncivilized parts of the world, and that many people who visit are not exactly outdoors-savvy.  I don’t mean this as a criticism at all, in fact it’s one of the best things about our National Parks – the Parks serve as a collection of places that are intentionally accessible, and serve to educate and draw in people who otherwise wouldn’t, and don’t, engage in outdoor experiences.  I wouldn’t normally expect someone accustomed to an urban lifestyle to just know about leave no trace principles.  National Parks are often a first taste, a means to spark interest, and encourage that kind of education, so having the Parks attract outdoor neophytes is on the whole, a good thing.  Normally, we expect that Park Rangers and other staff are there to hold hands, teach and enforce good behavior from those whose experience with outdoor ethics might be otherwise limited to a local city park.


Somebody decided to update petroglyphs in Capitol Reef NP.  This was before the shutdown, but the behavior is still deplorable.  NPS Photo.

So, particularly when it comes to bathrooms – I get it.  There are a certain percentage of park visitors who know where and how to do their business in the woods, but I don’t expect the average visitor to be out there digging a cathole the appropriate distance from a water source, etc, etc.  I can understand a bit of the helplessness one might feel when the facilities are out of order.  I’ll give folks a pass here.

I have less understanding for the piling up of trash.  The whole idea of leave no trace and pack-in-pack-out is, to me, just as applicable at a picnic area as it is to a backcountry site.  Even IF you’re not familiar with that idea, I struggle with the logic that drives people to just leave garbage next to an overflowing dumpster, particularly when they KNOW it’s not being picked up.  Is it a mindset that “somebody will get this eventually”?  Is it “Everybody else is doing it”?  Or just “I don’t know what else to do with this”?  Aside from being unsightly, this is of course dangerous, particularly to wildlife.  It encourages animals to consume things that might be unhealthy for them, and in the long road establishes a new, easy food source that is just going to cause unwanted wildlife


Saguaro NP, and a namesake saguaro cactus sectioned and cut up for some reason.  NPS photo.

encounters long after all this mess is cleaned up.  I’m sure many people aren’t thinking that their bucket of chicken wing remnants is going to ultimately cause a bear to be relocated or euthanized because it’s now patrolling picnic areas for a handout – but that’s one of the unfortunate side effects of not controlling garbage effectively.  The right thing to do is pack it up and take it out the park – I’m sure it’s easy to rationalize just adding to the pile, but I suspect that even while people are convincing themselves that this is an OK thing to do, they know deep down that leaving garbage out is not acceptable.  But for some reason, they’re doing it anyway.

And then… you have people who demonstrate selfish, blatant disregard for anything other than their own enjoyment.  Camping wherever the heck they want, cutting chains to access closed roads, putting graffiti on rock faces, and, now infamously, cutting down Joshua trees in Joshua Tree National Park because they want to go off-roading.  There is no argument that convinces me this is ignorance or naivete — this is willful destruction of OUR public property, and it amounts to giving a giant middle finger to anybody and everybody who cares about wild spaces in this country.  It is deliberate, and intentionally destructive.


Joshua Trees grow only 1/2 to 3 inches a year, making use of scant desert resources.  They only grow in certain elevation ranges where access to moisture is perfect.  According to the National Park Service, this one was cut down during the 2018-19 Government shutdown, for unknown reasons.  NPS Photo.

I mean, I try to picture the chain of events that leads somebody down this path…   “After years of driving by a particular wash in the desert and wondering if my 4×4 could navigate it, I realized, with rangers furloughed, this was my chance to give it a try, so I cut down one of the reasons this park is even HERE so I could go sneak in and do it.”  Is that how this went down?


Grafitti in Organ Pipe National Monument.  NPS Photo

Or is it more fundamental than that?  Is this a counter-culture, retaliatory gesture?  Is this hatred, and anger manifesting itself through the ruination of protected things?  Is it anger at those people – the US Government, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, conservationists and tree-huggers in general – that have unjustifiably put RULES in place for years?  And now that the metaphorical power is out, it’s time to go smashing windows and looting stores?

Or is it just self-gratification and who-gives-a-damn-about-anything-or-anybody-else?  Or more simply, just idiocy?

My father taught me a simple thing long ago – this great country, and our Constitution, give me many rights to do lots of things, rights that aren’t globally universal, rights that should make me proud to be an American, a citizen of the United States.  BUT, those rights only extend up to the point where my actions start to interfere with SOMEBODY ELSE’S RIGHTS to do those same things.  In other words, I’m FREE, but it’s not all about ME – we have to defend our rights, but recognize that these rights are shared, and defend them for EVERYBODY.

When your selfishness leads you to destroy MY property, land and resources we ALL share, you must be held to account.  In a world where “Freedom” is increasingly tied to “Personal Responsibility”, all it takes is a handful of selfish idiots to remind us we collectively don’t have the moral fortitude to be trusted, and we don’t deserve any of it.  Shut it all down.


6 thoughts on “Why Can’t We Have Nice Things?

  1. Thanks for this blog. We need to get the work our in any way we can. There are lots of organizations that should be on top of this and communicating to the public and particularly in schools. The shutdown event and the trash piled up is a good event for the Scouts to both do some public service and well as get publicity both of Scouting and for the Parks. Get out there!! War Eagle

    Liked by 1 person

    • There are certainly lots of people motivated to react and fix things – and I didn’t mention the many local organizations that have donated their time and energy to trash removal, etc. That’s certainly happening, and it’s cause for hope and faith in humanity. I wrote this from an emotional place…. it’s just hard to fathom the selfish mindset of destruction. And while there are many who thankfully want to help, there are a lot of actions by the few that can’t easily be undone. Collectively, we should be able to do better than that.


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