Protect Our National Parks From Vandalism – The Daily Utah Chronicle

Silvana Peterson

Visitors travel through the straits of Zion National Park in October 2020. (Photo by Silvana Peterson | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

National parks are a huge source of tourism and income in Utah. We are home to some of the finest national and State parks in the United States. As locals, we can enjoy the benefits of these parks in our backyards. However, we must also bear the negative consequences of having million tourists visit every year. The popularity of the sites leads to crowd surgeleaving our parks understaffed and overcrowded.

With the increase in tourism, we have also seen a drastic increase vandalism in almost all parks. More recently, Zion National Park damage reported sculptures, permanent markers and spray paint. While some of us may not be the culprits behind the degradation of national and state parks, we must deal with the repercussions of those who do. We must prioritize keeping our national and state parks as intact as possible to ensure that our future generations can experience them as we do today.

How does this affect us?

National parks have won great popularity, with visitors flocking to them whenever they get the chance. In 2020, people were looking for a safe place, close to home holidays opportunities in the face of COVID-19. The National Park Service says national parks, ‘especially those near urban areas’, have suffered badly higher traffic than normal during this period. Utah is home to the “Mighty 5” parks: Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Zion. Each of these placed among the the most popular National parks in 2021, according to NPS. Utah’s national parks have more than $1 billion in revenue, which is great for the local economy.

While this influx of tourism serves Utah’s economy, the same cannot be said for the natural relics in the parks. Not only is the vandalism of national parks a illegal activity, but it’s also unethical to begin with. It is difficult to remove paint, permanent marker and carvings from national monuments and is a deliberate act of destruction. When one-of-a-kind landmarks are vandalized, they can never be made the same again. It takes many thousands of years to form the special rock features that we so proudly showcase in Utah. Some of Zion’s distinctive features have taken about 1 million years form through processes of felling and widening the canyon.

In addition to lasting physical damage, it also costs national parks a lot of money to try to repair the damage. This money could be better spent helping to improve both the integrity of the park and the security features put in place for our protection.

How can we help?

According an article titled “Vandalism and Abuse in National Parks and Monuments,” vandalism and destruction in national parks cannot be completely controlled. The article also states that “tourists of all ages commit many acts of inattention…reckless persons are appalling in their conduct in areas provided by the Federal Government for recreation and enjoyment.” Although we may not be able to stop the malicious actions of others, we can certainly choose not to make such decisions ourselves. Self-responsibility and integrity go a long way in showing our appreciation for our local parks.

As part of self-responsibility, we must all follow the seven principles that NPS has established for the “Leave no trace” initiative. The purpose of these guidelines is to “…be aware of the effects our actions can have on plants, animals, other people, and even entire ecosystems.” NPS asks us to plan ahead by traveling in small groups, minimizing plastic waste, and focusing on using pre-existing trails. NPS also provides a “point line” which allows someone to report any suspicion of vandalism. Parks have often called upon audience using to find vandals, in the hopes that this will dampen their efforts to continue. Our access to natural wonders is limited, so let’s do our part to protect them while we still can.

How does the U help?

The Department of the University of Utah Parks, recreation and tourism states that “We create, share and apply parks, recreation and tourism knowledge to… meet social needs, promote sustainability and defend… the environment”. One of their areas of to research includes protected areas and tourism management. This emphasizes ethical impacts that tourism has on the environment. Students pursuing a degree through the program have the opportunity to work with professional associations throughout Utah to explore park management techniques and ethical issues. Some have the opportunity to volunteer for a National Park during the summer, for example.

The U should organize an awareness group just to educate and raise awareness about the increase in vandalism. This would likely encourage more people to report suspicious behavior and better monitor their own actions and those of others. Publicizing the “Leave No Trace” principles on campus could also serve us better in our mission to alleviate this problem.

National and state parks are phenomenal places that deserve our respect and self-awareness. We are solely responsible for preserving their beauty. People need to be aware of the upsurge in vandalism to find ways to prevent it. Let’s call this behavior out before it becomes a problem anymore, and we permanently lose parts of our national and state parks.

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