In 2018, environmentalism, conservation, and preservation are common terms. Most of us are aware of the damage society has inflicted on the natural treasures we love, and, in turn, we make conscious efforts to save these wonders. But it wasn’t always so. Back in the late sixties, pollution was rampant, lake and rivers were treated as dumps by large corporations, and for many enthusiasts, off-roading truly meant leaving the road and tearing up the land. To sum it up, things were a mess, but by 1970 people began to realize that something needed to be done, and later that year Earth Day was founded. For the next 48 years, April 22 would continue to put conservation in the limelight, inducing massive changes in the way we look at environmental responsibility. Corporations have started making efforts to clean up our waterways instead of harming them, certain species pushed to the brink of extinction have bounced back, and greater numbers of people are standing up to protect the lands they love each year. It’s still not all butterflies and roses though.
Despite these large strides, there’s still so much to do. With every step forward, we seem to take a half step back, and this year was no exception. We saw the reduction of many beloved natural monuments, the rollback of numerous preservation efforts, and the death of the last male northern white rhino. Not to mention the countless examples of enthusiasts destroying landscapes and driving irresponsibly for a little fame on “the gram.” I’m the first to admit that things look grim, but as articles circulate the community stating that there is nothing we can do to stop this slow descent into destruction, I have to strongly disagree. This problem might seem insurmountable on the surface, but like all great journeys, it begins with a single step. That could be logging on to the Tread Lightly site to learn more about their free training, participating in a trail cleanup, or even just purchasing a reusable set of camp cups and dishes instead of using paper and plastic. You could research better driving techniques to reduce trail damage, address that oil leak on your truck, or talk to your friends about the importance of supporting our national parks and preservation areas. However you choose to act, no matter how small, it adds up to a better tomorrow and begins to stem the tide.
There is a catch though, and while it might be the hardest part, it’s also the most important. In today’s world, it’s so easy to judge, to categorize, to simply write a snarky comment or article and bash someone for what they’ve done. The Internet has given us the ability to hide behind our keyboards and retreat into smaller and smaller groups of “people like us,” while labeling others as mall-crawlers or insta-overlanders, but if we ever want things to change, we need to break down these barriers and drop these labels. It cannot be them versus us. At one time, we were all beginners; we all had a drive to wander and no knowledge of how to do so. Only with time and through communication did we learn how to travel responsibly and care for the places we love. As the community and our experience grow, it’s imperative that we pass that torch.
When we see someone driving irresponsibly or mistreating their environment, we can’t make assumptions. Instead, we need to reach out, have a friendly conversation about a better way to do things, and help those individuals feel accepted into whatever sport or hobby they’re pursuing. They might just change the way they do things, and will certainly have second thoughts the next time they’re out.
I know that it’s easy for me to sit here typing out a mini-manifesto on Earth Day, but let me be clear, we’re not immune from this. Like everyone, we’ve learned from our fair share of mistakes, and that has spurred us to make a change. For now, it begins with this article to all of you, but it is our hope that over the coming months, Expedition Portal, Overland Journal, our members, and indeed the entire community can begin to make greater strides toward education, awareness, and understanding. The fate of our trails, our wilderness, and our ability to explore them just might depend on it.
For more information on Tread Lightly, Leave no Trace, and how you can make a difference, check out their links below.