Mendenhall: Protect our National Parks From Vandalism

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Silvana Peterson

Visitors hike the narrows in Zion National Park in October 2020. (Photo by Silvana Peterson | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Addison Mendenhall, Opinion Writer

 

National parks are a huge source of tourism and income in Utah. We host some of the most beautiful national and state parks in the United States. As locals, we get to reap the benefits of these parks being in our backyards. However, we also have to shoulder the negative consequences of having millions of tourists visit each year. The sites’ popularity leads to surges of crowds, leaving our parks understaffed and overcrowded.

With the increase in tourism, we’ve also seen a drastic increase in vandalism at nearly every park. Most recently, Zion National Park reported damage from carvings, permanent markers and spray paint. Although some of us may not be the culprits defacing national and state parks, we’re left to deal with the repercussions of those that do. We must prioritize keeping our national and state parks as untouched as possible to guarantee our future generations can experience them the way we do today.

How Does it Affect Us?

National parks have gained a serious amount of popularity, with visitors flocking to them any chance they get. In 2020, people looked for safe, close to home vacation opportunities in the face of COVID-19. National Park Services states that national parks, “particularly those near urban areas,” experienced much higher traffic than normal during this time. Utah is home to the “Mighty 5” parks: Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Zion. Each of these placed among the most popular National parks in 2021, according to NPS. Utah National parks account for over $1 billion in revenue, which is great for the local economy.

While this influx of tourism does serve Utah’s economy, the same can’t be said for the natural relics within the parks. Not only is vandalizing national parks an illegal activity, but it’s also unethical to begin with. It is difficult to remove paint, permanent marker and carvings from national landmarks, and constitutes a deliberate act of destruction. When unique, one-of-a-kind landmarks are subject to vandalism, they can never be made the same again. It takes several thousands of years to form the special rock features that we showcase so proudly in Utah. Some of Zion’s distinctive features took about 1 million years to form through processes of downcutting and canyon widening.

In addition to the lasting physical damage, it also takes a significant amount of money for national parks to attempt to repair damage. This money could be better spent to help improve both the park’s integrity, as well as the safety features put into place for our protection.

How Can We Help?

According to an article titled “Vandalism and Abuse in National Parks and Monuments,” vandalism and destruction in national parks can’t be completely controlled. The article also states that “Tourists of all ages commit many acts of carelessness … thoughtless people are appalling in their conduct in areas provided by the federal government for relaxation and enjoyment.” While we might not be able to stop the malicious actions of others, we can certainly choose not to make those kinds of decisions ourselves. Self-accountability and integrity go a long way in showing appreciation for our local parks.

As a part of self-accountability, we should all follow the seven principles NPS has established for the “Leave No Trace” initiative. The purpose of these guidelines is to “… be conscious of the effects our actions may have on plants, animals, other people and even entire ecosystems.” NPS asks us to plan ahead by traveling in small groups, minimizing plastic waste and focusing on using pre-existing trails. NPS also provides a “tip line” that allows someone to report any suspicion of vandalism. Parks have oftentimes called upon the public for help in finding vandals, in hopes it will mitigate their efforts to continue. Our access to natural wonders is limited, so let’s do our part to protect it while we still can.

How Does the U Help?

The University of Utah’s department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism states that “We create, share, and apply knowledge about parks, recreation, and tourism to … serve social needs, promote sustainability and advocate for … the environment.” One of their areas of research includes protected area and tourism management. This emphasizes the ethical impacts that tourism has on the environment. Students pursuing a degree within the program have the opportunity to work with professional associations throughout Utah to explore park management techniques and ethicality questions. Some have the opportunity to volunteer for a national park over the summer, for instance.

The U should organize an outreach group solely to educate and bring awareness to the increase in vandalism. It would likely encourage more people to report suspicious behavior and better monitor their own and other’s actions. Advertising “Leave No Trace” principles around campus could also better serve us on our mission to mitigate this problem.

National and state parks are phenomenal places that deserve our respect and self-awareness. We alone are responsible for preserving their beauty. People need to know about the uptick of vandalism to find ways to prevent it. Let’s call this behavior out before it becomes more of a problem, and we lose parts of our national and state parks for good.

 

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@addsmendenhall