National Park Visitor Behavior

Tuesday night my sister-in-law sent me a link to a USA Today Newspaper article on vandalism that recently occurred in Joshua Tree National Park. This park is located in Southern California and is filled with unique landscapes as well as the Joshua Tree for which it is named.

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The vandalism, which included off-road driving and outright purposeful destruction of Joshua Trees occurred during the recent government shutdown.  Our national parks fall under the jurisdiction of the Federal Government. Therefore, many of the employees at Joshua Tree were furloughed along with other government employees.  The vandals took advantage of this and destroyed the park in a multitude of ways.

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Joshua Tree National Park, © Carol Labuzzetta, 2018

As a self-proclaimed conservationist, a citizen who loves to travel, and a person who loves the natural settings that have been preserved for us in our national parks, this behavior disgusts me! I find myself asking what is wrong with the people who did this?!

Why? Why? Why?

As I read an article tonight from the New York Times that described the suffering the unique ecosystem found within Joshua Tree will experience from the damage, I was taken back to an experience we had while in another National Park in 2015.

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Christmas Morning Dawn on Haleakala Volcano, Maui, © Carol Labuzzetta, 2015

On Christmas Morning 2015, my family had the privilege of watching the moon set and sun rise over Haleakala Volcano, on the Hawaiian Island of Maui. It was cold – about 30 degrees – in the clear, pre-dawn air at an elevation of 10,000 feet. It was crowded. Tourists were everywhere. The park rangers roamed through the crowd updating us on the impending sunrise. As it got closer to the time that the sun would break over the clouds (we were above the clouds, looking down on them), tourists started to crowd together on the main outlook over the crater adjacent to the visitor center at the lookout.

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Maui, Moon Set, Christmas Morning, 2015

Behind where we stood waiting there were gardens with large rocks and silver sword plants. Like the Joshua Tree growing specifically in those deserts in Southern California, the Silver Sword plant only grows on the slopes of Haleakala. Written signs and the rangers both explained this. But, that didn’t stop some of the tourists from walking through the gardens and very nearly trampling the silver sword plants.  This behavior continued, with the admonishment of the rangers being totally ignored.  It was enough to make one cringe. We even started to help the ranger tell people, “Do Not Walk Through the Garden!”

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Haleakala Summit Sunrise, 12/25/15, © Carol Labuzzetta

Our National Parks belong to all of us. They are objects of beauty, places that have been conserved and preserved for all to enjoy, appreciate, and visit to be renewed and inspired. But, when fellow citizens abuse these precious treasures and all that are held within the chest of their boundaries – like the highly unusual Joshua Tree and Silver Sword Plant, their actions affect us all.  None of it should be tolerated. Yes, people were frustrated at the government shut down. !es, it was crowded at the summit of Haleakala. Still none of that excuses the actions of a few that affect a resource for us all.

The next time (or first time) you visit a National Park, respect where you are, and leave no trace when you go. Certainly, you don’t leave damage that will last long after you are gone.

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