Saturday, April 15, 2017

Mixed Feelings (and finding a fort)

There was a post on social media the other day about construction of a new observation deck at Little Spearfish Falls. I did not know about that plan, which is surprising because I try to keep up on the news about development in Spearfish Canyon. It's the area managed by the State Department of Game, Fish and Parks so they have every legal right to make "improvements." This, however, does not strike me as much of an improvement. There was already a fence to safely allow viewers to look over the top of the Falls. This will extend the viewing area somewhat, but at the expense of those viewing the Falls from below. Upon completion the folks at the bottom will now be looking up at the top of the falls where the water begins its cascade down to the creek below...while also looking at all the spectators on the new platform at the top. Seems like it will kind of ruin the view from both perspectives.

It's actually a mess up there right now. Lots of signs.

The other disturbing sight I saw on my recent hike in that area was the considerable cutting of tree limbs. I'm not a forester, but I can't imagine how cutting so many branches can actually have that much of a positive effect. I'm sure the trees don't like it. I saw so many trees attempting to heal themselves. There was some evidence of success, but most remain terribly scarred.

Fresh cut - the healing begins

Rare example of a mostly successful healing

I'm conflicted by the current development and the proposed state park plan (supposedly shelved...for now) because, while I understand the need for easier access for those who are less mobile due to illness, injury or age, I prefer the more primitive areas. I'm afraid those will disappear. There should be a way to find a balance, but often when development starts - it doesn't stop. All the trails are groomed, all the roads are paved, parking is limited to spaces between the lines, and access is denied. Even when I'm too old to hike the backwoods and rocky trails at higher elevations, I wouldn't want those things to no longer be available to persons who can still enjoy them just to accommodate me.

Perhaps most of all I worry about people not being able to build secret forts.  Like this one -

It's a place I've been hiking to for many years. I can't tell you the exact location. That would not be cool. It would "out" my fellow travelers who have been responsible for so much activity there. I have seen structures of varied sophistication come and go through the years. Some resembling a sweat lodge, others dark and kind of creepy, others open and colorful like the one there now. The builders of the current digs call it their fort. How I know is by reading their note in the small journal they placed in a plastic bag and tied to a rock outcropping. They also asked, "please don't destroy our fort." I've never seen any activity there that could be considered vandalism, so I think the fort is safe. Until someone else comes along and decides to remodel. 
Funny thing, though, I have never met or encountered any others during my many visits. That's probably because if I see other vehicles parked anywhere near the partially concealed starting point of the trail - I don't stop. Others probably make the same decision when they see my vehicle. It's like an unwritten rule. An understanding between denizens of the canyon. I don't bother them and they don't bother me. And if ever our paths do cross words may not be spoken, but a smile and knowing nod will surely be shared as we go about our way.
And you know what? There has never been any need for our merry band of hikers and fort builders to erect a barricade with the words "Keep Out" or to post a sign saying "No Trespassing." Sometimes...most of the time...the honor system works just fine. It's called trust. Let's try that more often. I, for one, promise to never ever destroy your fort. And I will be thankful for the opportunity to visit once in a while.

Roger O'Dea     4/15/2017