Growing up "out west," many people out here are lulled by the giant open spaces, the long uncrowded roads, forests you can have to yourself, big rivers with hardly another person in sight and beaches, piers and breakwaters so devoid of humankind that a person could imagine they're alone on the planet.
While there is still plenty of space left, much of the "big sky country" is changing and just like every other part of the world, there are more and more people who want a share of all that open space.
The concept of "free Nature," that is to say, a place that does not cost anything to visit, is a fading vision of yesteryear. In many ways that is a real serious loss, but the truth of the matter is that we are now, and probably will always be, in a "management mode" for our wild places, and that "mode" costs money to operate.
Because of sheer human pressure on the natural resources, we must have some limiting factors to keep things from completely being overrun by huge crowds of people. To this end, it is completely obvious that we must charge use fees for the daily enjoyment of our state and national parks.
The alternative is all too clear: Overrun campgrounds, beaches, parks and waterways.
A user fee for Ft. Canby, Ft. Columbia, Leadbetter State Park, Long Island, other parks and breakwaters and any beach that has cars on it, and on both sides of the river, is the only way to keep control of our natural resources.
If spending a few dollars to visit the big crashing waves at the Columbia breakwaters is required so that we do not have to elbow three deep for a look, then so be it. For the price of a pack of cigarettes or a whopper suitcase of Budweiser (or less!), a person could enjoy a two-day pass to Ft. Canby or any other park, and that seems like a real bargain!
The notion that we somehow are entitled to go to these places for no expense, and that the skyrocketing cost of maintenance is just "someone else's problem" ... well, that's just not the way things are!
Where is it written that we should be able to go to state parks to see Pelicans or Herons or Sanderlings for free? Or that we can enjoy a storm from the security of a beach approach, but that we don't have a responsibility to pony up a few dollars for these terrific experiences? We would gladly pay money for a videotape rental, or a go-kart outing, but not for a day trip to a state park? (What's wrong with that picture?) If anything, they aren't charging near enough!
Of all the things wrong with this society today, and of all the wrongs that will have to be righted after this Bush administration is done stripping the protections from our wild places and our wild animal populations, not to mention the parks having their operating budgets slashed to fund even more ridiculous military waste, it seems that having to spend a little money to insure some personal space in our protected parklands seems very minor indeed.
If these wonderful and still fairly wild lands of ours are to remain beautiful and unspoiled, then we have a very distinct responsibility to ensure their continuing wild nature and that Nature doesn't come for free. TANSTAAFL!
Craig Sparks is director of NAWA and loves to photograph Pelicans. Found injured wildlife? Questions? Call NAWA at 665.3595 or e-mail to email@example.com