Saturday, April 16, 2016

Loved to Death

In March 2003, I began my tenure as a seasonal worker in an incredible tract of woodlands in the Ozarks. I finally had a chance to see wildflowers that I had learned from field guides of spring flora in Louisiana but in the flesh, since most of the spring flora in Louisiana had been extirpated from years of fire suppression or utter destruction of natural communities, they were listed as "rare or declining." I really loved seeing Dutchman's breeches and wild geranium for the first time, and certainly loved seeing that they were considered "common spring wildflowers" in the Ozark Highlands. So I really relished my work site and wanted to make sure that everyone else could experience that same excitement of seeing an incredible spring wildflower display.

Years pass, visitation to my favorite place increases, publicity highlighting how great this place is increases, and my favorite place starts to see visitation reaching one million, not just a few thousand visitors a year, but close to one million people wanting to see all of these great features. Approximately one million people hike the little footpath wanting to see the wildflower display, the geologic formations, the little footpath that also affords a good little hike for health purposes, despite the natural history one may encounter, it's a hike! The little footpath becomes a large trail, a wide trail from all of the trampling of vegetation. The little trail is now a main path that sees over 500 visitors a day, so all of the vegetation that existed along the edges of the small footpath is now gone, the ground totally compacted and eroded.

Let's fast forward another five years and more publicity for this site: Best site for spring wildflowers! Best site for hiking! Best site for a natural setting! Best day trip from multiple urban areas! Best area to see a microcosm of the Ozarks! Ach. So, more publicity, more traffic to this precious site that is so fragile because it represents the highest quality landscape in the region, but it has hiking trails, and picnic tables, and day use! More visitation, more widening of the trail. With increased visitation, hikers decide to go off trail, to trample native vegetation to see rock formations. The few hikers that go off trail then create rogue trails that everyone else follows, which means that these illegal trails to no real destination end up as eroded areas of no vegetation. All of the spring flora that once existed here has been destroyed by visitors going off the trail.

The image to the right represents an illegal trail. Note the erosion around the roots of the tree, note the lack of vegetation. This area on a slope did not look like this several years ago. Illegal trail use and trampling has damaged this area, and it will take many years to recover.

When a populace learns of special natural places, how does one protect these areas from being loved to death? Will it take boardwalk installation everywhere before the publication of an article in a St. Louis newspaper? One person going off trail and trampling vegetation will invite others to do the same. Fragile spring wildflowers do not recover, they don't just "bounce back" from repeated trampling. In areas that are loved by millions of people, please stay on designated trails. The features for which the area was protected, the reasons for which the area was designated as a significant site, will suffer with illegal, rogue and social trails. Sadly, this site that I fell in love with in 2003 is being loved to death. Everyone wants to explore, to hike over every inch, and to see the area in all its biodiverse beauty. Unfortunately, that love will kill the resource in the end.

1 comment:

Patricia A. Laster said...

I am in the Arkansas Ozarks (Eureka Springs) for a week of writing/ poetry activities. Dogwoods are in full flush and I see outside my window, one--only one--live branch full of redbud color. The rest of the tree is dead, possibly killed by ivy that has risen and is still lurking toward the live branch. Otherwise, the hardwoods are beginning to leaf out. My view from this writers colony consists of 1. the dead branches of an oak hanging precariously; 2. a stalwart pine, with broken, jagged branches up so high, and 3.a utility pole, transformer and all, feeding the nearby park and environs. Not very inspiring for a writer, but I can always go to the deck overlooking the park. No,for on this Sunday, there will be people talking and children hollering. Enjoy your posts; sorry about the human encroachment and what it does to the woodlands. PL