I’m obviously the voice of college-educated liberals with too much time on their hands.

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from the Overnight Backcountry Fee Proposal Public Comment Period:

“I would like to express my frustration upon learning of the proposed fee increases in Yellowstone National Park, and the notion of a backcountry camping fee in particular.

First off, let me admit that the proposed fees are nominal. 5$ for a night out in the backcountry isn’t going to discourage many people. And if the fee climbs every year, or jumps up to the Teton’s blanket 25$ a night (which has, in fact, dissuaded me from taking an ambling over-nighter or two), the experiences will always, in hindsight, be worth it. As we all know, when it comes to National Parks, it’s not the money that’s important. It’s the idea.

I go to Yellowstone because I am a lover of the landscape. Not because I am a Park aficionado. I understand where the Absarokas taper off, where the Gallatins start to rise, and how exactly that connects to my backdoor. When I go to Yellowstone I go into the backcountry because I believe that is where its soul can be found.

It is a big park with a lot of backcountry. Much of that backcountry is only reasonably accessed by spending a night out. ALL of the backcountry, in my opinion, is best experienced by spending a night out—by leaving your vehicle behind and finding an experience pared down to the simple things in life. Not everyone agrees with me, and not everyone should. But I don’t think that it should cost more for a visitor to see the Thorofare firsthand than it should cost someone to walk high-maintenance boardwalks, consume interactive exhibits, and loiter in enormous multi-million dollar museum-lodges while attended to by interpretative staff. That’s a bias of management: it’s not logic.

This is the kind of prioritization that speaks volumes about the National Park Service. To imply that the NPS’s presentation of the landscape is paramount to the visitor’s experience, but not sleeping under the stars, galls me. I do not believe it is a noble or even a generous mission of the National Parks to aspire to grab and hold the visitor’s attention, to try to compete for the ever-shortening human attention span. Even if the Park succeeds, what will the visitor then take away? The announcement of this fee proposal coincides with another news release: it will cost $34 million to provide Yellowstone with wireless internet, as part of the NPS’s “Go Digital” campaign. Promise me the correlation here is just a coincidence.

It is my opinion that Americans are losing their relationship to the outdoors, and for that matter Yellowstone is losing its fight to stay relevant, because everyone is being told what to look at, listen to, how and where and when to pay attention. The savvy modernist will only listen insofar as they stand to profit by it, as the subject relates to their own self-interest. These qualities can manifest in healthy habits, perhaps they drive our innovative culture, but they can also get in the way of the person new to the woods and trying to absorb its lessons in a way that they weren’t trained. Let the Parks offer something truly different, not just novel. The underspoken mystery of backcountry is an antidote to our growing neediness. It is perhaps the most important thing that a visitor can take away from their Yellowstone experience.

When a backcountry permit is seen as an “extra”, and internet connections are taken for granted as a necessary service, the Park Service has failed the people. As one who was raised in Bozeman, worked in National Parks, and lived my entire life within a couple hours of one or the other, I feel like I have received both insider and outsider perspectives on this subject. More superfluous amenities, more crowds, and more red-tape is what distinguishes Yellowstone from the surrounding land. All these attributes contribute to the “local” impression that the Park is a self-perpetuating consumer of funding, a hungry beast that spends money to create a problem that it must then spend more money to solve.

Parks are already criticized for their tendencies to create spectacles out of scenery and interject a degree of disbelief between the vista and the visitor. I fear that too many tourists come to Yellowstone looking for the outlandish, get stuck in traffic, attend to the postcard pullouts that they recognize from calendars, and don’t identify nature again for a thousand mile drive home. I don’t hear a lot of visitors finding the peace that they traveled so far looking for.

Please make it easier for Americans (and visitors from the world over) to access the beautiful parts of Yellowstone that can actually save us, and otherwise, please stay out of the way. Don’t make us pay $5 to sleep in our own tents at the end of a rocky trail.”

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