Jeep at Marcy Dam is a stunning violation
Last Tuesday, on my way down from the summit of Mount Marcy, I came across a sight I hope to never see again. Right next to the trail register at Marcy Dam was a white Jeep Cherokee, parked as if that were a trailhead lot.
Perplexed, I assumed that this vehicle belonged to a ranger, though it bore no Department of Environmental Conservation markings or coloration. Seeing a ranger just ahead, speaking with an older couple, put my mind at ease for a minute. I intended to tell her about the two young men I saw up the trail who seemed to be in the process of starting a fire at a lean-to when I realized that she was not, in fact, just having a conversation with the couple in front of her. As they began to shout and become agitated toward her, it became clear that the vehicle parked next to the trail register belonged to them. Somehow, these two had gotten around the gate at the South Meadows access road trailhead and driven the 2.7 miles into Marcy Dam.
Stunned, I indicated to the person I was hiking with that we should take a few steps to the side and give them some space. I was absolutely without words. Who could possibly think that this was even marginally permissible? Why would anyone assume that the trail they traveled was meant for civilian vehicle travel? If you haven’t walked it before, this trail can accommodate an emergency vehicle, such as a UTV, to help with emergency rescues but it is not a casual drive through the woods and it doesn’t take a dramatic leap in logic to understand how wrong this was. Who could think they had that right?
Just then, one of the Jeep owners dropped a line that was apparently meant to answer that question. To protest the charges that the ranger was delivering to them, she shouted, “But I’m a veteran!”
I’m by no means here to issue judgment on the military of the United States. The debate over whether to view it as an insidious force for neo-colonial exploitation or as the staunch defender of democracy and freedom around the world is far beyond the scope of this column. Those who choose to volunteer for service — who face the potential of sacrificing life, limb and mental health with the hope of helping protect this country and the rights of its citizens — are well worthy of commendation. But the notion that one’s status as a veteran could grant that individual permission to break common-sense laws designed to protect a public resource is plainly ludicrous.
I’ve had plenty to say about the privilege people express on-trail in the Adirondacks, but this was the most aggressive example I’ve encountered. It also put a cap on a summer’s worth of absurd misuse on Forest Preserve lands. Seeing a car parked by that trail register made the remnants of campfires on the summit of Marcy look downright wholesome. Not only were people who perpetrated this action not showing any shame or humility; they were arguing their innocence despite being so clearly in the wrong. Most absurd of all, they were shouting their defiance at another person who had volunteered to put their life in the way of potential danger to uphold the laws of this state and this country.
I try hard to see both sides of any given debate, or at least being able to understand the reasoning of people I disagree with. It’s not always easy to do (even when I’m just plain wrong); the allure of holding to positions you consider righteous is undeniable. Plus, trying to be objective often requires that you question deeply held beliefs and values so you can see things from angles you hadn’t considered before.
To pursue the notion of objectivity, it’s helpful (if not necessary) to assume that other people also value truth. You have to believe that people perform actions or hold beliefs for some good reasons — reasons that they’ve paused to consider before. The example above seems to accentuate a fallacy inherent in this assumption. The sad truth is that not everyone is interested in the pursuit of objective truth. Sadder still is the fact that some who were, ostensibly, objective-minded enough to volunteer their lives in service of something greater than themselves could see their perspective degrade so thoroughly.
I don’t think I have to tell anyone who is still reading why it might be bad to allow personal vehicles onto hiking trails or into a protected, wild space like the High Peaks Wilderness (though I’m happy to have the conversation if you’re not convinced). While this example is clearly an exception to the norm, the past summer seems to have revealed a disturbing trend toward this brand of aggressive selfishness among some recreators in the Adirondacks. This sort of situation pushes me further into the mindset that, despite the robust protections already afforded to Forest Preserve lands, more needs to be done to safeguard this place from those who would so intentionally misuse it. If nothing else, it makes me feel a depth of gratitude to all the forest rangers who work so tirelessly and against such odds to protect wilderness in this state.
(Correction: An earlier version of this column incorrectly said the Jeep was seen Wednesday; it was Tuesday, Sept. 22. The Enterprise regrets the error.)