In July we took to the high country and hiked to Fremont Lookout for our Alpine Trails Book Club meet up. Laura chose to hike in a National Park to go along with the theme of the month’s book selection, Lassoing the Sun: A Year in America’s National Parks. We are lucky here in Seattle to be so close to one of the oldest and most impressive National Parks, Mount Rainier.
The trail to the lookout begins at the popular Sunrise area of Mount Rainier National Park at 6400 feet, the highest part of the park that can be reached by road. We met next to the old lodge which opened in 1931. The lodge housed amenities such as showers, laundry, groceries, and cafeteria style dining for the over 200 rentable cabins that sprouted in the area. The cabins did not weather well, though, and were removed in 1944. The beautiful lodge structure remains, however, still offering cafeteria style dining and a gift shop.
We made our way through the crowds to the lookout trail. Emmons Glacier dominates the skyline as we scan the meadows for wildflowers. There was lupine and paintbrush and phlox, all familiar with a just a little twist that made it unique to the Park. It’s not a hike in Mount Rainier unless you spot some happy marmots along the trail. We saw several. I pointed them out to Evie and she giggled and babbled her approval.
We talked about the crowds and how it seems like we are seeing more and more people on the trails lately. Sunrise is a place that people come to from around the world. It is not unusual to hear hikers speaking several different languages. We pass groups of teens, families, trail runners, and couples, all seemingly content and happy to be in this beautiful place. All of us there for the same reasons and no one deserves to be there more than anyone else. But I can’t help wondering, are we loving Mount Rainier and other National Parks to death?
Mark Woods grapples with this and other issues that affect our beloved National Parks in Lassoing the Sun. He won a journalism fellowship that allowed him to spend a year exploring whatever he wanted. He chose the National Parks. Starting with a New Years Day sunrise on Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park and ending with a sunset in Haleakala, he traveled to a different National Park each month. And not just the popular ones. He wasn’t out to just celebrate the last 100 years of the parks, but rather to examine threats to the National Parks in the next 100 years.
The most obvious threat to the parks is climate change. The effects are already evident as glaciers in Glacier National Park are melting, habitats are shrinking, and species disappearing. But what should we do about it? Should we preserve the parks and fight to keep them the way they are, or do we let nature take its course and allow species to adapt on their own even if it means we lose some of them?
Photo: Laura Norsen
Then there is the issue of the parks being overcrowded and underfunded. The parks had over 300 million visitors in 2015 which is a staggering number. While it is great that so many people are loving on the parks, there is often not enough staff to support them and budget cuts make it difficult to fix and maintain roads and trails. The other issue with the crowds is that they are mostly white with an average age of 41 according to the National Park Service. This does not reflect the surrounding communities and certainly not the future generation.
In the book, Mark talks his wife and teenage daughter into going on road trips with him to the National Parks. It was what his parents did while he was growing up and he wants to carry on the tradition and share his favorite places. He worries about what the state of the parks will be in his daughter’s lifetime. With a little daughter of my own, I worry about it too. So what should we do about it?
Ultimately, Mark is hopeful. He says, “…being an advocate for the parks doesn’t mean you have to do something extreme. You don’t have to chain yourself to a redwood. You don’t have to be able to donate a bunch of money. If you want to help the parks, the most important thing you can do is simply go to them – and take someone with you.”
Lassoing the Sun by Mark Woods
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If you haven’t already, go read The Hour of Land. It is full of gorgeous essays by Terry Tempest Williams from her time spent in National Parks.
Read Here’s my idea of the happiest place on earth, an article that Mark Woods wrote about his year in the National Parks and why he chose this journey.
And check out Mark’s beautiful photos from each park he visited.
Be sure to leave a comment to let me know if you enjoyed the book and what you think about the future of Mount Rainier and the National Parks.