The National Park Service recently presented several options for managing camping on the St. Croix River between St. Croix Falls and Stillwater. This is the second in a series examing that proposal.
I’ll be the first to admit that it’s very hard for me to objectively judge the camping management alternatives presented by the Park Service. Even though in my heart I want to see policies in place that are best for the river, I can’t help evaluating the options selfishly, with my own interests still squatting in whatever corner of my mind they can.
It took me a while to realize it, but of all the things that initially turned me off to the Park Service’s “preferred alternative,” the first and foremost thing was not that the new regulations would restrict access, thereby offending some egalitarian ideals of public lands. Certainly, that is a major consideration, but the first thing to flicker across my subconscious as I read the proposal was purely selfish. This line was the culprit:
“â€¦[L]imiting tent camping to designated campsites…”
I was afraid of getting out there and not being able to find a site, right? Not really, they’re talking about having around 45 sites, plenty to handle the demand I’ve observed. I didn’t like the idea of not being able to just camp wherever I felt like, right? Well, a little, but I’ve never lamented that in the Boundary Waters or anywhere else.
No, it wasn’t either of those things. I was afraid they were going to put my campsite on their map!
There is a certain site on that section of river that for many reasons is special to me. Partly, it’s a sentimental thing. Mostly, it’s just an awesome site, and it’s almost perfectly hidden. Landing where a very small creek falls down 20 feet of rocks into the river, you walk up an invisible trail, around a tall berm of earth, and find a wonderful spot next to that little creek, complete with a beat-up picnic table and an old fire ring. On top of the berm, tall pines reach toward the sky.
I stop at the site every time I paddle that strech of river. Not usually to camp, but for a snack break, to stand on top of the berm and look at the marsh across the channel, see all the way to the bluffs on the distant shore, or sit at the picnic table, with the creek gurgling by. Often, I talk with whoever I’m with about when we can return and stay a night.
Even though it’s an established site, it’s not one of the three or four designated sites already mapped on that stretch. If it got put on a map, I realized any schmuck could beach their rented Alumacraft and take the site, maybe depriving me of the opportunity, surely not appreciating the fine site.
Not so egalitarian of me, eh?
Second to my fear that the site would be charted, discovered and subsequently unavailable to me was the fear that it would not be. If it was not, it would be illegal to enjoy a night at one of the small paradises of my life. Truly a strange thought.
I confess all this as a means of purging it. I need to deal with it here before diving into the Park Service’s proposal. But ultimately, it also reminds me of something very important: that human beings setting about to make decisions for a river is nothing less than foolish. We are selfish, ephemeral and endlessly fallible. Meanwhile, the river is ambivalent and objective, just the type of qualities we wish we could exhibit while making these types of decisions about conservation. But we can’t.
So I have already come to one firm conclusion. Obvious, maybe, but it is that any decision made on this matter should be what is best for the river. There is no pleasing everyone, because some people think that regulation would violate their rights to use the river however they choose. Others (riverfront property-holders for the most part) think the current lack of regulation is ridiculous and encourages trespassing, littering, noisy partying and environmental abuse.
And then there’s me. I don’t know what I think yet. Except that they better not take my site away from me.
[tags]conservation, national park service, camping, land management[/tags]