Commercializing Solitude

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The little outside bar in the middle of no where.

A recent newscast spoke of a significant increase in visits to national parks due to social media usage. Once a haven of the adventurous seeking solitude, millions are now flocking to previously secluded spots made internet famous by stunning photography that has been shared all across the globe. Gone are the days when we would simply see a photograph of a beautiful place and long to go there. People are actually going.

This results in some national parks having to fight harder to preserve our natural surroundings. When human traffic to these remote areas increases, the majesty of the experience is often lost in the crowd.

Another recent news story spoke of an increased number of deaths on Mt. Everest. The deaths are attributed to overcrowding of people trying to reach the summit. Apparently, anyone with $11,000 can try to reach the summit of Mt. Everest regardless of preparation or qualifications to attempt the ascent. There is no regulation of people who are allowed to undertake this feat other than having the ability to pay for the experience.

We are commercializing solitude.

There are how many – 8 billion? – people on this planet. Our cities are overcrowded. We are now crowding those areas that were previously areas of refuge for some to escape the cities. Not every city person is cut out for the wilderness. Thus, we now have “glamping” for those who are unable to navigate the wilderness but want the illusion of solitude.

Let’s throw some glitter on a tree, and all of a sudden forests are popular.

I had been going camping to a location in the Adirondacks for about 16 years. This annual trip started back in the 90s. The location was the halfway point where I would meet college friends coming from western Massachusetts.

Cranberry Lake was my favorite place to be because it was remote and safe. I stayed in the same site every year for this trip, and every year things were the same. The natural beauty provided a sort of consistency in my life in the midst of much turmoil. I knew that no matter what was going on in my life, where I was or where I was living, each summer, I would always have my trip to Cranberry. Kind of like the whole “we’ll always have Paris” thing.

The annual Cranberry trip was like New Year’s for me. This is the big trip where I could relax and recharge and return to life refreshed. Especially the years when I was working 70-80 hours per week at multiple jobs while attending school full time, these trips helped me to keep my sanity.

The only reason why I specifically mention the location now after all this time, is because it has been commercialized. Unfortunately, Cranberry Lake is no longer my oasis in the middle of the Adirondacks.

The last few years that I made my annual pilgrimage to the location, I noticed a marked increase in the number of people camping. I’m sure on some level this is great for the state department of environmental conservation – more people camping means more revenue. However, with increased use, I noticed changes.

The first thing I noticed was changes in clientele. As the years have gone by, there are less families and more rowdy young people. Or, families who are raising Cain. I know this makes me sound like a curmudgeon-y old person, but there is more noise and less respect. People walk through other people’s wooded, secluded campsite without saying anything because they like the view from someone else’s site.

Um, excuse me, but you are standing near my tent, and I paid for this space.

Second, I noticed that even though some of the increased traffic was coming from students associated with environmental conservation programs who were, allegedly, in school for environmental conservation degrees, were trashing the natural surroundings.

An area that was naturally mud and downed trees now has now been cleared for people to put in kayaks from a private site. Too lazy to take the kayak to the public launch site, these students have instead chosen to destroy the natural surroundings to make an unapproved (I asked) kayak launch.

It’s kind of hard to sit in the middle of nowhere and be peaceful when surrounded by loud, boisterous people who have no respect for the outdoors around them.

These inconsiderate people are apparently incapable of living without cell service for 24 hours. There is now a cell tower in this part of the Adirondacks. Now, New York State told the cell company that the tower would have to “blend in” with the natural surroundings.

The cell tower “blends in” alright. It looks like a giant green toilet brush. You can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig. You can tell that the cell tower is there even if it is “disguised” as a tree that in no way blends in with the trees surrounding it.

Part of the attraction of going to places like this, for me at least, is the lack of cell phone service. I literally love to unplug and unwind. I don’t have to worry about people calling me, texting me, or emailing me. Especially in a society that is completely on 100% of the time, we need moments to disconnect and reflect.

During a recent internet search trying to find a new, more remote area of the Adirondacks to be my new oasis, I noticed that Cranberry Lake is listed on a boatload of “best of” lists that have promulgated the internet over the past 10 years or so.

No wonder that spot has become so popular. Cranberry Lake has suffered the same fate as some of the national parks and Mt. Everest where social media has made them so popular they are now being destroyed by the increased foot traffic and are no longer the places of refuge they once were.

When I was in the Adirondacks recently, I went by Cranberry Lake. I noticed that now instead of having the small, simple brown sign out front indicating the turn to the campground, there are in fact, 5 different points of entry into this location and all of them are very well marked. There is no hiding out at that location any longer.

After hearing of the recent murders on the Appalachian Trail, I would not consider such a popular spot a safe place to be anymore. You just don’t know who is traipsing through the woods now.

This is why, when I found my new oasis location, that will not be named, I chose a location that does not really come up on “Top 10” lists or the average internet search. I want to be in an area that not many people know about, that is remote yet still safe, and retains it’s natural beauty. Forests should be respected by people visiting, not destroyed.

I do believe that everyone has the right to enjoy parks and the natural beauty that surrounds us. However, when large numbers of people flock to the same location at the same time, it is not sustainable on the environment. At that point, we are just turning the woods into new cities.

I will let everyone else go to Mt. Everest, the internet famous national parks, and the ones in the Top 10 lists. For me, I’m going to look for the locations that are off the beaten path so that I can truly be in solitude. The challenge is that as we are commercializing solitude, those truly empty places are getting harder to find.  

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