Dear 'Outside Magazine': It's A Good Thing More People Are Hiking

Dear Outside Magazine,

Please tell me I didn't read that right. On page 36, in the December 2015 issue, at the bottom of the page, there is a little box called "Wishful Thinking." In it are listed "trends, tools and irritations" you hope will disappear in 2016. It's the last one that made my eyes fly open and my breath catch when I read it. It's the last one that I had to read several times to make sure it said what I thought it said. It's the last one that hurt.


The last bullet point on the list of irritations you wish would just go away in 2016 is: "The effects of Wild and A Walk in the Woods on trail traffic." So what you are saying, as a major media venue for outdoor culture in America, is that you wish all those annoying people who read/saw Wild or A Walk in the Woods and got inspired to go outside would just go away, would just go back inside and turn the TV back on? Who exactly then, does deserve to go outside in your estimation? Who deserves access to trails and who doesn't?

The subtle elitism evident in this "wishful thought" highlights the creep of class and privilege in the outdoor industry (anyone doubtful of this should read the profile that takes up the rest of page 36, unexamined privilege indeed).

I have no doubt that certain trends increase pressure on outdoor resources (trail heads, camping areas etc), here in Maine we are grappling with that issue in Baxter State Park. But the solution to this problem isn't simply wishing all those extra people away.

The solution is for land managers to get creative about controlling access to the most popular areas, providing alternative itineraries, and increasing the amount of natural landscape available for people to enjoy. And if things get crowded, well, that is reality folks. There are 7 billion people on this planet, we have to share. It is getting more unrealistic to head into the wild (especially the increasingly front country wild of national trails and parks) and pretend that we don't live on a crowded planet.

I thought the general idea these days is to get outside, for mental and physical health. We want more kids outside, we want families outside, we want sedentary adults to get outside, we want elders to stay active outside. Less screen time, less sitting around, more activity and fresh air. Thousands of programs across this country and the world work towards that goal. I thought that was what your magazine was about too (it's not a coincidence that one of those links above is from your own magazine). I thought we were all on the same team.

If some one read or saw Wild and got inspired to outfit themselves and take to a trail that is a good thing. That is one more person exploring the benefits of an enhanced relationship with the natural world. Does it really matter what inspired them to do it?

Sarah O'Malley
Blue Hill, Maine

This post originally appeared on Bangor Daily News.