Millennials have discovered nature, and for that, we can thank—or blame—Instagram.
In recent years, traffic to both state and national parks has surged. Take Mount Rainier, which, from a distance, may look like a massive pile of bird shit but is actually quite photogenic up close. In 2011, roughly 1.5 million people visited the park. In 2016, it was almost 2 million. There are many factors accounting for the increase—a stronger economy, regional population growth, fluctuating gas prices, the rise of gorpcore, etc.—but it’s hard not to imagine that social media has something to do with it. Just look around the next time you visit a park: There are almost as many selfie sticks on the trail as there are trekking poles. And that’s not an exaggeration.
This can be annoying, especially for those who have long enjoyed these national treasures and now have to share them with everyone else. There are also real concerns about wilderness areas being “loved to death,” as documentary film producer Dayton Duncan wrote in The New York Times last year. But in the age of Trump, all this traffic might have a hidden benefit: People are more likely to fight for things they love, and our president, whose ideal version of nature involves a putting green and a golf cart, has repeatedly threatened the future of our most irreplaceable natural resources.
He’s called for an increase in drilling, mining, and logging on public lands; overturned Obama-era environmental protections; and signed an executive order making it easier for energy companies to drill in national parks. Plus, his proposed budget cuts $1.5 billion from the Department of the Interior, the agency in charge of the National Parks Service (NPS). To his credit, he did declare that he’ll be donating his $79,000 first-quarter presidential salary to the NPS—after first saying he would work for free—and that was nice of him. You can get like 3,500 cases of toilet paper for that kind of cash.
A few more millennials falling in love with nature clearly isn’t the worst thing that could happen to it, since the worst thing that could happen to it already has, and he's occupying the White House two or three days a week right now. However, if young folks are going to lace up their hiking boots and join the old farts in nature, there are some simple rules they need to become acquainted with first: Don’t feed the wildlife; pack it in, pack it out; weed is still illegal on federal lands; and—most importantly—DO NOT PLAY YOUR FUCKING MUSIC ON THE TRAIL.
I cannot believe this needs to be spelled out, but apparently, it does. On nearly every hike I have done anywhere near the city of Seattle in the past year, I have seen at least one group of young hikers moving along, enjoying the fresh air, and loudly playing music from their Bluetooth speakers. This is not okay. These resources belong to the entire public, not just the portion of the public that likes Calvin Harris. It’s rude, and if y’all are going to spend your time tromping around the woods instead of the mall, great, but have some respect for everyone else. Same goes for drones—they sound like weed wackers and they make you look like an asshole. They are also illegal.
I have, so far, refrained from scolding these young people and their blaring iPhones. But that stops today. I’m going for a hike this afternoon, and if I see a single person, young or old (and they will be young), audibly playing music on the trail, I’m going to walk directly behind them and blast old reruns of A Prairie Home Companion until they get the message. And if Garrison Keillor doesn’t drive them away, I’m guessing Trump’s budget cuts will do the job eventually.