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Permits, Quotas, and Reservations

The following was written ten years ago -- but now that the National Parks are moving to a reservation system for ALL visitors, it seems appropriate to look at it again.

There is some discussion these days among backpackers about the number of people that are allowed into the wilderness. The concern, of course, is that if there are hordes at every lake and stream, we quickly lose the sense of wilderness that we love. And we agree with that.

But that doesn't mean that we would EVER discourage anyone from taking a backpacking trip. Quite the opposite. When it comes to getting people out of their houses and cars, and into our National Parks and Forests, the more the merrier. Because once someone has experienced the joys and beauty of backpacking, they will become fans for life. And that means voters.

Let's face it. If we could depend on our elected politicians to do the right thing every time, life would be a lot easier. But we can't. Politics is a dirty, ugly game, and politicians make all sorts of deals every year. One offer we never want to see on the table is giving up our parks and forests. As Ken Burns noted, those are in many ways our greatest American idea.

So take someone backpacking today. Introduce them to the charms of the trail by day and the stars at night. Help them find their way around in the woods, and invite them to come back again with their friends. We do, and are we convinced that it will encourage more people to protect these wonderful places.

True, we often find ourselves hiking to distant locations these days, off the beaten path and often off-trail completely. And when we do that, we find the solitude and wonder that is always there. There are a lot of mountains up there. We need to protect them all. And we need all the help we can get.

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