July 15, 2006
I parked my bike at the fence and crawled under the bottom wire, walking gently into the hallowed ground of the Swaner Nature Preserve. Having left my dog at home, hoping to leave no trace or disturb the wildlife, I instantly entered a new world of squishing sneakers and waving grass, as tall as the belly of a buffalo. I was alone, unencumbered, both resident and guest. I wished I were a hovercraft, floating above every precious acre that was packed with life and biodiversity. Birds and bugs, mallards and microorganisms, sand hill cranes and snails. Leave only footprints, take only pictures. This is what the Snyderville meadow once was. It didn’t take 100 yards to forget the subdivisions and strip malls that surrounded me. I could have been John Colter wandering into Yellowstone for the first time. A pair of Canadian geese circled above suspiciously and when I dropped the earphones of my MP3, there was a cacophony of croaking frogs in a little pond, drowning out the industrial hum of the freeway with their mating cries. It was visible, tangible, audible evolution, adapting, improving and thriving.
The going was tough with so much water and swamp and no visible path or easy way around. Heading out toward the larger lake, full of cormorants and mud hens, I was shocked to cross an ATV trail, and then another one. Fresh-looking tracks but probably from last year, I was incredulous that someone had the gall to ride around this sensitive ground apparently on some kind of equal-access joy ride. Wetlands seldom lie and they hold their secrets for years, secrets of thoughtless abuse, careless contamination and vindictive violation. Oblivious or malicious, who cares what the motive was? It was wrong.
We have the right to visit this place and countless other public places, but our machines do not. We do not have the right to drive our bikes, ATVs, cars or motor homes every place we need to go. There are enough parks and playgrounds to give everyone the opportunity to see the wilds of the West, and appreciate them enough to support their preservation.
Everywhere I go there are signs of abuse and destruction — from the thoughtless trespass of entitled entry. Mountains, desert, wetlands and beach, they are now our racetracks, our birthright single-tracks or personal road less traveled. It is a scourge on our land of epidemic proportions, and officials are powerless in the face of the numbers, their organization and their arrogance. We can only gaze past the tracks and noise and think of what used to be, and what could be. Is it another symbolic incursion on our public lands, our quality of life, our individual pursuit of happiness or just another trophy home, strip mall, traffic light or trampled preserve?
Is it progress, lifestyle entropy or simple de-evolution?