Paving Paradise (or just trampling it)

Dec 06 2014 Published by under Gardening For Life, Isn't It Ironic?

This past April I wrote the following post but never published it for some reason. It's very ironic to me that I came across it again today. Mr. Z and I will be going on a long-planned vacation in a few weeks. The place where we are going offers tours to various locations nearby. One is to a beautiful nature site. I looked into it online and saw pictures of this nature site crawling with tourists, posing for the camera. It is indeed a truly beautiful place but I thought maybe it didn't need my footsteps all over it; there would be plenty of others. I recognize that tourism is a source of income to the place where we are going, and the place where we will stay was once some unspoiled natural site that has been thoroughly pre-trampled for our vacationing pleasure. I guess that will just be enough trampling for my guilty soul for one vacation. 


The Morris Arboretum is in my backyard, so to speak, and it is easy for me to zip over for a quick visit any day the mood strikes and the migraines don't. This time of year I want to be there all the time. From around the end of March through April you can practically hear plants growing. Every day at the arboretum there is a new look. Something has just come into bloom or budbreak; some other bloom has just finished its show. A week ago the walk from the parking lot down along the open south-facing hillside was littered with little purple crocus. Yesterday not a one was to be seen. Only their green shoots remained, and will soon be mowed with the grass. But I've been keeping my eye on the katsura tree and yesterday was the day to be there!

I have been watching it closely since the last week of March, going to the arboretum as often possible. Yesterday it was in the flush of budbreak, the deep red buds on the tips of branches still tightly shut but further down unfurling in delicate imitation of blossom. Yet they are leaves, and will soon turn green, and the show of color will disappear. But not yet. Come around the corner of the arboretum path where the giant tree once hidden is now revealed, and yes, it takes the breath. It is so immense, its little rosy buds so delicate and so numerous. It says come closer, absorb this feeling of color, linger in this moment.

The arboretum is a managed and manicured place, and I do no harm by walking its paved pathways. It is a museum of flora from around the world, and sometimes I crave to wander among something more native. The arboretum sponsors garden trips, and several years ago there was one to Shenk's Ferry Wildflower Preserve. It is famous for its richness of spring ephemerals. I was not able to go, but I promised myself that someday I would. This year was shaping up to be the year.

I was poking around online for some information about Shenk's Ferry and I came across this blog post. It is a beautiful travelogue of a trip to Shenk's Ferry, with many photos, and I was so excited. Then near the end I read this:

On this small path we encountered a disturbing scene.  An infestation of Euonymous alatus, the exotic invasive burning bush, overtaking the Trilliums along the path...This infestation reminded us that we cannot escape the invasives, and that the problems we face in Morris Park  are everywhere. In a way, we can clearly see that Shenks Ferry Wildflower Preserve is not a fantasy escape of happy wildflowers growing in a rich ravine, but a place just like many others: A happy place of diverse species and some invasives, at risk of becoming degraded.

I felt grief when I read this, and yet what had I expected? I realized that in some way I thought of Shenk's Ferry as a pure place I could find the unspoiled woodland I wished I could recreate in my backyard, bordering as it does on a small wooded area. But if I can go to Shenk's Ferry, and Shenk's Ferry has a walking trail and a Port-o-Potty, it is not unspoiled and certainly not pure. Visitors trample the plants in the quest for great photos, despite signs and brochure warnings. People steal the plants. People, apparently, go hunting in this area. The brochure notes that "shooting of firearms is permitted only during hunting seasons." Otherwise, please stay on the trails folks - this is a fragile area.

Commenters on that blog post complained about the poor state of the dirt road leading to the trail head at Shenk's Ferry. Why, some people couldn't make it down the road and had to turn back! Why not pave it? That would make it more accessible! More people could walk the paths! Maybe they could put in a little building with a real toilet! And I'm just saying, it wouldn't hurt to have a real parking lot! Do it up Yellowstone style! Hey - where have all the flowers gone?

I don't know how we can continue to have "wild" places if at the same time we all want to go and see the lovely wild places, for ourselves, close up. Somebody has to not go. I volunteer me this year.

4 responses so far

  • becca says:

    Apparently, if you go trampling through the arid plains, you might do some good ( But it helps to go with a herd. I recommend girl scouts riding bison. Purity may be overrated.

    Also: the only reason someone should be hunting in Shenk's Ferry is to paintball those that would STEAL plants. The IDEA!

  • quixote says:

    There is major tension between people enjoying nature (and therefore becoming motivated to preserve it) and ruining it by enjoying it. What to do about it, I don't think anyone has really figured out.

    I know that backcountry trails in lots of places (Yosemite, Canadian National Parks near Banff, some of the better known trails in New Zealand) require permits to hike and only issue a limited number of them.

    Another thing that helps a bit is that, on a population level, 90% of people don't get more than 200 ft away from their cars. Granted, the remaining 10% can do a lot of damage. I guess I'm saying "Think how much worse it could be" which is not exactly useful or cheerful. Sorry. People wrecking nature by enjoying it is a bit of a bumblebee-in-the-bonnet for me.

  • olympiasepiriot says:

    "May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view." -- Edward Abbey

    Just sayin'...

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