Discover, enjoy; don’t destroy

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In the United States, national parks are bracing for the usual vacation swarms — often, more visitors than parks like Yellowstone can handle — but they are also bracing for a new storm of vandalism, a personal kind of “leaving a mark” that’s doing permanent damage.

The New York Times reported Wednesday on a growing trend that’s not only annoying, but is doing so much damage that some areas of parkland are being closed to visitors.

In Sagauro National Park in Arizona, rangers found scores of 150-year-old slow-growing sagauro cacti defaced with  gang symbols in black paint. The cacti need every inch of their green skins clear to be able to produce food through photosynthesis in the harsh desert climate.

The U.S. parks service has had cases of rare petroglyphs covered with spray paint and major rock formations defaced with names and slogans. In some places, vandals have etched their names next to marks preserved since prehistory.

Rangers suggest that part of the growth in tagging and vandalism could be connected to social media; that there’s instant gratification in being able to snap a shot of your efforts and share it.

One thing’s for sure: there has been graffiti for generations, and while it’s a problem we can probably stamp out, it’s one we should all think about as we head out across the province on vacations this year.

We have plenty of beautiful places in this province — it’s unfortunate that many of them are marked up by people who think their own efforts are more important than what Mother Nature has to offer.

You don’t have to go far out of town to see it.

Sometimes, it’s just an attempt to promote someone’s existence — like the person who, about a year ago, stopped at every billboard along the eastbound lane of the Trans-Canada heading for St. John’s, and wrote the name “Pam” in black spray paint on every single sign they could reach. Many thanks, whichever Pam or Pam admirer you are.

Other times, it’s far more damaging — like the scores of Gros Morne visitors who visit the Tablelands and pry up stones to build inukshuks, often killing or damaging the otherwise hardy ground cover that has managed to struggle along in the region’s highly acidic soil.

People seeing the standing stone structures seem to think it’s a great idea, and make their own using materials that may have rested in one place for hundreds of years.

Others decide shortcuts through parts of our federal and provincial parks are much better than the established trails — an understandable thought, but one that leads to trail and landscape erosion.

It’s worth thinking about that old slogan as you make your way through the province’s wild spaces and preserves: take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but footprints.

And even then, tread lightly.

Organizations: Trans-Canada

Geographic location: United States, Yellowstone, New York Sagauro National Park Arizona

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