Slime and Savor: The dual impact of tourism on public lands
This essay was written as part of Kincentricity, a collection of map-based woodblock prints and writing which explores the relational archetypes present between humans and the ecosystems which surround us.
The roar of the falls reached me over my laborious breathing, my childish complaints. Pushing ahead on a narrow trail, we emerged from the tangled forest to see a diamond in motion — tall boulders obliterating a crystal clear cascade, birthing a mist that seemed more rainbow than water. The beauty stunned me into silence.
A child visiting the same falls today must trudge past a breadcrumb trail of toilet paper, left along a path wide enough for whole classrooms. Ancient matriarchs of the forest — rhododendrons over a hundred years old — bow and sag as the endless stream of visitors erodes the soil and crushes their roots. I wonder: does a visitor today feel the same awe that I did at my first visit? Is awe even possible in a context of crowds and rubbish?
The first year of the park — after its rescue from contamination by DuPont chemical company and the lust of development — saw around 300,000 people. In 2020, it saw over 1.2 million, and closed for two weeks to repair damage from vandalism, illegal parking, and trash.
Relationship is a necessary precursor to love. The relationship my experience built is one of reverence, one that acknowledges a magic larger than ourselves.
What relationship are these visitors expecting? And what do they take with them? Perhaps we need to stop thinking about our right to the land, and instead consider our responsibility to it. It is possible for our participation to be nourishing and restorative to these spaces — we have but to recognize our kinship with them.