I was recently leaving a campsite in Kentucky when I spotted something troubling: a steady stream of smoke rising up in the forest. We pulled over immediately and found that the campers from the night before had tossed a burning fencepost into the woods. I’m dead serious when I say that right as we walked up a forest fire was in the works. The surrounding leaves had just caught on fire and a disaster was in the making. We grabbed bottles of water from the car and doused the soil until it was completely out. When I looked around, it was clear that they’re recklessness had started long before we arrived.
At this particular campground each site has a nice privacy fence built around it. It’s also an equestrian campground, so it provides a place to tie up horses as well as a cozy place for them to bed down for the night. These campers had completelydismantled the fence for firewood. Fence posts that were set in the ground with cement were pushed and pulled until they broke free. Food and beer cans littered the entire site. It was one of the most disrespectful acts I’ve ever seen in a campground.
This kind of behavior is utterly shocking to me. It is a level of disrespect that enrages me beyond words. It also demonstrates a very sad and narrow view of the world we live in. I’ll tell you what I mean.
I have a very expanded idea of “home.” I’m a taxpayer. This means that a portion my money is supporting the state parks where I live. I take pride, and even a sense of ownership, in the parks for that very reason. For me, Leave No Trace isn’t just a checklist that I follow when I’m at my campsite. It’s a state of mind I practice everywhere I go in the great state of Minnesota. If I’m on an evening stroll in a park and an empty campsite needs a little tidying, I grab the litter and toss it in the trash. In this case I felt a very strong responsibility to address what looked like a dangerous situation, and it’s a good thing I did. There’s no telling how big that fire could have become.
When you’re in a state park you’re not just visiting. You and everyone else in your state own that park together. I urge you to adopt this mindset. Treat it like your own backyard. Pick up bottle caps. Pick up cigarette butts. Isn’t that what you do at home?