So, I’m gonna let you in on a little secret that’s not much of a secret. My day job right now is working for the National Park Service at the entrance gates of a national monument. No, not the kind of monument that’s just a statue of some racist white guy from a long time ago. The kind of national monument that’s just like a national park, only a little smaller. The kind that protects a natural area from getting fucked up by the oil and gas industry or by some multi-million dollar estate properties. That kind of national monument. I tell a lot more stories about this day-job in my book (see my “Publications” page) How To NOT Be A Dumbass In A National Park (And How To Fight The Power.) But I digress.
The story I have for you today is one I’ve encountered far too often as a booth-monkey, and it’s about the most infuriating thing I ever encounter, except maybe for the people who think that their taxes pay for national parks. (Ha! No, your taxes pay for war and tax breaks for billionaires. Not national parks.)
So anyway, these people from freaking Vail ride up to my booth on road bikes that probably cost about $10,000 each. They don’t have an annual national parks pass, which at $80 a year is a damn good deal, if you use it. But I tell them our entrance fee for individuals is $15 per person, which it is, and they ask me when it went up from $5. I explain that this happened a couple of years ago and that since 2016 (we all know what happened in 2016, right?) Washington has insisted we raise our fees every year. I didn’t say “Washington has insisted,” but I did my best to strongly imply that, because it’s true.
But it was their response to this that infuriated me. They said, “Oh. Well, we’re just gonna turn around then. We don’t pay for public lands.”
“We don’t pay for public lands.” Think about that for a minute. “We don’t pay for public lands.”
But they paid $10,000 each for their road bikes. They paid at least $75,000 for the obnoxious gas-guzzling SUV they drove their expensive bikes out here in. They paid a cool million or more for their house in Vail. But they don’t pay for public lands?
It’s as if this land, these last vestiges of a world not overrun by humans, these last reserves and refuges for non-human beings, these final bastions of hope against Climate Chaos were worth nothing to them. Absolutely nothing.
And this is the problem. This is why our public lands are in danger. Because people will willingly pay to have them destroyed, but they don’t want to pay to preserve them. Sure, they enjoy riding their road bikes that cost more than half of my annual salary through beautiful scenery, but not enough to pay for it. Yet, every time they gas up the SUV or their 35 ft motor home, they’re paying the oil industry to destroy our public lands. Where do they think most of the oil drilling and natural gas fracking happens in this country? Do they not know It happens on public lands? (Mostly land managed by the Bureau of Land Management.) And the only reason, the ONLY reason why the national monument where I work exists for them to come and ride their expensive bikes through AT ALL is because people pay entrance fees. If people didn’t pay entrance fees, the national monument where I work would’ve been mined for uranium or drilled for oil or carved up into upscale private ranch properties a long time ago.
This is not the first time I’ve encountered this attitude. And it always seems to come from the folks driving an expensive car or RV, or riding expensive bicycles.
This is also why our national parks and public lands are now too expensive for a lot of lower-income people to visit. This is why entrance fees keep getting raised every year. Because rich people don’t want to pay for our public lands. If these lands were privately owned, they’d pay, I bet. It’s more than a little ironic that these folks don’t want to pay their entrance fee, but then they also don’t want their taxes to go up to pay for public lands either. But I bet they’d have no problem paying thousands of dollars to stay at a private resort for a week, but for public lands? Lands that are owned by The People, in common. No way! What a rip off, right? God forbid they pay for something poor people own, too. Gross by association!
Okay. Sarcasm aside . . .
National parks and monuments should be The People’s Vacation, as far as I’m concerned. They should be cheap enough that working class and poor people can still afford to visit them. They should be something that all Americans get to see and explore. Public lands should be a tremendous source of pride for us, just for the fact that someone, many people actually, somewhere along the way, lots of places along the way, had the foresight to preserve land, to preserve ecosystems, and to protect them from human fuckery. We should all be incredibly proud of this and this land should be extremely valuable to all of us. We should all be willing to pay whatever price necessary to keep these lands public, owned in common, by all Americans, and protected from destruction and exploitation.
But these people on their bikes today, they take no pride in this land. It’s not worth anything to them.
Had I not been at work, I would’ve shamed them till they begged for mercy.