Enjoying Nature - at a Price

A few weeks ago, a friend and I went on a hike in the mountains near Albuquerque. We hopped in the car, gassed up, and headed out for the trailhead that's about an hour's drive away.

During our hike, we let the forest work its quiet, revitalizing magic. We gawked at the sweeping views and examined tiny, blooming wildflowers. We caught an impromptu bird symphony and marveled at massive spiderwebs. We also talked about the many other trails we hoped to explore this summer, some of which are a couple hundred miles away.

But that's the awful paradox that most of us face as we set out to spend time in the outdoors. Unfortunately, just getting there inadvertently takes a toll on it.

Exploring nature typically requires driving long distances -- and that's a problem in the face of global warming. This is especially true for urbanites and those who live far from the parks, beaches, lakes, and landmarks that they seek to visit.

I thought about this as I read Grist.org's feature about the impact that climate change is having on our national parks. The eco-magazine features an interview with Tom Kiernan, president of the National Parks Conservation Association.

The group has just released a comprehensive report and action plan for saving our national parks. The 48-page report, called Unnatural Disaster: Global Warming and Our National Parks, offers an appalling reality-check using case studies from national parks around the country. The news is bleak, but the group spotlights what we can do, such as the National Parks Centennial Initiative, a Congressional bill that seeks to greatly increase park funding.

It didn't surprise me to learn that our national parks rank as the most appreciated service of the federal government. So I'm glad to hear that there are ways to get involved and take action on behalf of our parks.

If nothing else, it helps alleviate the guilt that I feel for ultimately harming the forests, wildlife, and eco-systems that give people so much pleasure. At the same time, I'd hate for a nagging sense of guilt to grow out of bounds and limit my enjoyment of the outdoors -- or prevent me from checking out trails, mountains, rivers, and national parks.

I'm curious about whether anyone else has felt the same twinge of guilt -- and how you manage this particular dilemma.

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