south sisterI found this report by CNN more than a little disturbing. A new study by the Nature Conservancy found that Americans are visiting national parks less often. Researchers believe that 98 percent of the decline can be attributed to an increase in electronic entertainment: TV, video games, movie rentals, and the internet.

People need nature — national parks specifically. But national parks need people too. Without visitors and a strong constituency, our natural heritage is likely to be eroded by funding cuts, back-door administrative changes, and commercialization. (If you don’t think the crown jewels of U.S. natural places are in jeopardy, click on the links above. I dare you.)

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The high water mark was 1987, when Americans averaged 1.2 visits to national parks a year. Nowadays, that figure is 0.9 — less than one visit per person per year. I realize I’m a bit of an outdoor nut (and lucky enough to live in the national park treasure trove of the Pacific Northwest), but … yikes, that’s roughly my monthly average.

However mediated by electronic phenomena modern life becomes, I can’t imagine replacing the rawness of a direct encounter with nature. That’s why next week, you may find me here, but you won’t find me here.

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