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Not quite 20 years ago, I was on the final leg of a three-day backpacking trip in Yosemite National Park. In the Sierra Nevadas, summer weather is more predictable than it is in the Rockies, and my dad, my brother, and I had been sleeping without tents—so we were surprised that morning when we awoke to raindrops. We broke camp, and I set a brisk pace. But my speed-hiking came to a full stop when I spotted bear droppings right in the middle of the narrow trail. I was excited, and a little frightened, at the prospect that what was most likely a black bear had been nearby. After a brief pause, I continued on—and quickly came across more scat. And then more. Right. In. The. Middle. Of. The. Trail. By that point, my anxiety had been replaced with terror. It seemed clear this bear was trying to tell us something: something like, This is my home. Beware.
I was reminded of that day as I read Kelly Bastone’s “Walking On The Wild Side”, which details the increasing scientific evidence that recreational trails negatively affect wildlife. For those of us who spend time in Colorado’s backcountry, this conclusion is troublesome. Bastone’s feature, however, illustrates how savvy land managers are creating new policies not only for the ways in which trails should be built but also for how they should be used by the public in order to ensure our recreational activities have minimal impacts on wildlife. We didn’t encounter a bear on that rainy day, and for that I’m grateful. But I’m just as happy that the bear didn’t have to encounter us, which is the kind of scenario we should all hope for if we want to keep our wildlands…wild.