Accessibility,wildness,and politics 

From “Highways Today”

Buried in the bombshell about taking a butcher’s knife to our public lands, are the machinations to improve Hole in the Rock Road, build a state park, and make this area more accessible to the general public.

And by the general public, per the linked article, this concept means groups of up to 100 LDS youth studying their historical roots in this area.

Much as the LDS church took over the historic Devil’s Gate area on the historic Oregon Trail and renamed it Martin’s Cove, I suspect this proposed state park will be less about preserving a wild place and more about reframing the area as part of a greater LDS narrative.

But this article is not about this particular hoodwink.

Instead, it is about anytime there are plans to “improve” a wild space, the same argument comes up: We need to make the area accessible to more people.

Be it improved roads, more amenities, better connectivity,  or increased services; the rallying cry is always that more people need more or better access.

(Of course, most of these improvements for access is ultimately to make corporations wealthier using our public lands, but I digress.)

But does every area have to be accessible? Can we not have places a little rougher, a bit more remote, and challenging enough where a person needs a particular skill set and fitness level to access?

I love my road trip. But I’ve realized that the national parks and NPS administered monuments I have been visiting aren’t wild or that remote overall.

They are awe-inspiring, memorable, and beautiful. America’s legacy to the world is our park system.

But except for pockets within the parks, they are not overly wild. They are regulated heavily, accessible, and administered to a strict standard.

That is not a complaint. Our parks have a different mission and focus than a remote canyon in BLM land. And I accept that by going to mainly national parks on my road trip,  that I have also accepted certain constraints when seeing these jewels of America’s public lands.

On the other hand, my journey through Utah was so memorable because I went through wild areas. Areas not accessible to everyone. Areas not maintained or heavily regulated. Areas that will soon no longer be wild, alas. Areas that may soon have a new energy road. Or a state park. Or both.

Perhaps it is easy for me to want wild and remote spaces when I am a healthy, strong, and competent backcountry enthusiast.

But if (when) my health fails at some point due to old age or circumstance, I won’t pine for more access.

Instead, I’ll celebrate the fact that I was able to access these remote areas when they were still wild.

We need our wild spaces. Without true wildness the outdoors is lacking certain aspects that appeal to our need for some rough edges in our lives.

TEN miles with only five hours of daylight. EEK!!! 🙂

All of life can’t be tamed, regulated, and genteel.  We need to huff, puff,  sweat, scramble, push ourselves, get a little lost, scraped up, banged up, bruised, battered,  and live life without guard rails.
I want some wild spaces. A new visitor center with dioramas of what used to be there when it was less accessible be damned.


6 Replies to “Accessibility,wildness,and politics ”

  1. Couldn’t agree more. Imo, we’ve reached the point where we should start having *very* high hurdles for creating or “improving” roads in rural and wild areas. In fact, my preferred avenue for limiting access to wild places where overuse is putting undue burden on the natural ecology is to close the road that goes there to vehicular traffic. People can walk. Or bike. Those who are not able might be able to hire a pedicab.

    The issue I see here is, what might be called, snapshot tourism. Drive to a park, take a picture, drive to your hotel – the beautiful wilderness acts and is seen as nothing more than a pretty picture. People don’t take the time to notice the subtle beauties that are surrounding them. They don’t feel the reward of having to work to find the dramatic view.

    Rather than building more roads to encourage snapshot tourism, I’d be far more interested in spending our public dollars on education programs so people can feel the more remote wildernesses are accessible to them (and so they’ll access them in a responsible mannar, wag bag and all), or on providing programs to increase access to the working poor.

  2. I’ve thought about this myself Mags, there are many places not doable/accessible (for a number of reasons) to me and I’m pretty fit with good skill sets and adequate gear. I then ratchet my expectations down to areas that are accessible to what I can now do and cherish those previous memories forever. As you point out part of the experience is the aspect of getting somewhere remote and then enjoying the solitude of having gotten there with your own wits/physical skills.

    BTW, who will pay for a 50-mile paved road to HITR and then maintain the blue grass etc.? A paved road in a park setting will not be the same experience the old LDS’ers experienced. There will still only be the visitor center dioramas left to tell the true story, not much different than what is now in the town of Escalante.

  3. So long as there are ample places to get away — really get away — from the developmental mindset within a few hours drive for everyone, that balances the national and state lands where amenities make those more accessible and easier to navigate.

    But we must be vigilant that these places continue to exist by making sure they continue to be protected. This requires political advocacy and activism.

  4. Oh so like Edward Abbey. Rather like what they did to his beloved Arches. Industrial tourism for people in sardine cans with wheels.

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