Private Views of Public Lands: Who Do These People Think They Are? Oh. Heh. Us.

How do government workers stand it? All the democracy, I mean. All the dealing with people on whose behalf they are planning the roads or designing the curriculum…or, in this case, protecting the land.

This land. And this chocolate lily and this death camas.

The cover shot of this blog is part of the San Juan National Monument–which happens to be practically in my backyard. So I spend a lot of time out there–enough to feel a strong degree of ownership. “Yeah, yeah, public land…but they don’t know it and love it like I do.”

It’s not like the path is hard to find or anything.

Which is why it’s so hard, every year as Memorial Day approaches, watching the hordes of visitors begin to tromp my beloved paths. Or, often as not, tromp OFF them, into the meadows and over the fragile lichens, despite the signs asking them oh-so-politely not to…

Have you ever seen a sweeter, more polite sign from the feds? It even says Thank you!

despite the not-subtle blockages of routes…

C’mon, people…sticks mean no walkies!

and, oh yeah, this brand-new sign with the trails perfectly marked and the endangered wildflowers listed (the ones you’re tromping on now, you!!! Get back on the trail! (Easy, girl.)

Thanks, taxpayers! (You’re welcome.)

How do they DO it, those Bureau of Land Management folks who, charged with protecting this fragile landscape, hosted public meeting after public meeting with every possible stakeholder, striking the perfect compromise between use and misuse, the perfect language for every sign–including when NOT to place a sign at all? And then to see how many people deliberately breeze past your handiwork because they NEED to go climb that rock?

THIS rock…which has a perfectly good access if you’d just walk a little further up the trail!

I know, believe me. I’ve scoffed my share of laws–dog off leash for years (though I always leashed up if I saw another person), lichens crushed, flowers picked because I wanted to. But that was BEFORE someone asked me (politely) not to, and took the time to explain why.

Do we need to ask more politely? Explain more thoroughly? Or just resign ourselves to the fact that a certain percentage of people will always do exactly what they want no matter that–or even because–someone’s asking them not to?

I’m really bad at resignation. Guess there’s a reason I don’t work for the Bureau of Land Management. I have too much personal, private passion wrapped up in these lands…which aren’t private in the least.

Which is good. I happen to have neighbors who are equal parts wealthy, environmentally concerned, and generous. I walk and run on their paths as much as on the National Monument; they are contiguous, the same stunning stretch of coastline. And grateful as I am for their permission to drink in the private beauty, it feels weird to me that it IS private. That so few people have access…to wander off its trails, tromp its delicate meadows and lichens and…

Delicate lichens and red-leafed stonecrop that suddenly shows itself golden in the spring…

Oh dear. Here we go again. Guess I’ll just wrap it up this way: I love our democracy. I love the idea of public lands. And I appreciate the hell out of the folks who have to deal with the public ON the land, because…they sure are better at it than I am.

Leaving Traces to Leave No Trace

Sometimes, to get where you want, you have to go the wrong direction. Chess and soccer players know this. Being neither, I’ve been learning this lesson firsthand these past few weekends, helping to close down “social trails” on my beloved “big backyard,” which also happens to be a National Monument.

For better or for worse, a ton of other people love it too. The place is being loved to death. And with no official marked trail system, folks wander all over. Most know not to trample wildflowers, but what about when they’re not blooming? And what about lichens? Most people don’t know how key lichens are to the entire ecosystem. This is what happens when lichens meet feet too many times:

Left side: good. Right side: bad.

Left side: good. Right side: bad.

Lichens lose.

So, enter the trail-blockers, led by Nick, World’s Most Awesome Bureau of Land Management Non-Bureaucrat. Over three Saturdays, and using approved Leave No Trace methods, the work party hauled old branches from the nearby woods to make the trails say “CLOSED” as obviously as possible.

Happy, sunny-day workparty!

Happy, sunny-day workparty!

Notice all the lichens we’re not stepping on?

Guess what? Rainyday workparties are happy too!

Guess what? Rainyday workparties are happy too!

Looking at the pictures of our work, however, you might notice something.

Pardon my debris.

Pardon my debris.


Yep. Really, really ugly.

Yep. Really, really ugly.

But it’s absolutely necessary. Under those logs new grasses will grow, new wildflowers, and yes, new teensy-weensy baby lichens. Lesser trail blockades–let alone courteous signs–wouldn’t be enough to protect this fragile, precious place. So even though I wince to see those logs scattered about so hideously amid all the beauty, I’m willing to live with it, in order to make the right side of this photo one day look like the left.

Do not enter. Lichen it or not.

Do not enter. Lichen it or not.

So, pardon our debris, everyone. Sometimes we have to leave one heckuva trace, short term, to leave none in the end.