Jackson Hell-Hole
Friday, November 12, 2010 at 1:59AM

ARRGHH! Get me out of here! Cars and tourists everywhere, this is not what I came for. If it weren't for the traffic signals I'd have had to wait all day to cross the road. There are so many tourists they are tripping over each other. They are even asking me for directions. Do my bike and I look like we are from here? Of course not, so no, I haven't a rashers where the ice-cream parlour is! Jeez!

The town of Jackson acts as a gateway to nearby Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. These are two of America's most well known parks so they tend to attract a lot of visitors each year. The town is so over-run with tourists that the locals jumped ship a long time ago. The few that remain are plotting their escape. If you have made the mistake of putting your kids in school here you might be forced to stick around until they finish but as soon as they do, vamoose! There are likely some rich folk on large pretend ranches that remain too. However, the erection of large electronic gates and the installation of guard-dogs successfully protects them from tourists. I'm guessing they don't sweat around town too much and are thus, oblivious to the 'rush'.

The rush that I speak of is eerily similar to a gold rush. Once there were no new lands to discover and the pillaging of colonies became unacceptable, man resorted to mining. Of course, the perceived environmental destruction and the fact that man has already robbed the land of plenty makes mining beneath the surface less resourceful than it once was. The result is that man has turned to the open-pit mining of natural beauty instead. Something that was free to humankind is now refined and packaged to a large degree. Where once money was made in the sale of pans and shovels to prospectors, people nowadays sell beds to tourists and wait on tables instead.

I don't begrudge paying National Park entrance fees when I have travelled through so much back-country for free, however, I do resent being told that it goes to maintenance and preservation of the Park eco-system. Is it not ironic that I am being asked to contribute to the protection of nature as a visitor when the community is doing its level best to get me there in the first place? Let me be clear, damage to natural habitat is the result of local greed and not visitor foot-prints. What were once National Parks have become National Car-Parks as asphalt roads are laid through open country-side to allow visitors to reach all the remote and scenic natural spots without expending any effort. To visit a National Car-Park is to say that you drove to the parking-lot at the summit, stood for five minutes to take in the panorama from the man-made viewpoint, took the photo and then dropped into the visitor centre to buy a hot-dog. While it is great to make National Parks more accessible to the disabled and frail it is disingenuous to think that they do it for their sake. The truth is that the local community has already mined all the active nature-lovers and in an effort to swell visitor numbers they need to target a new market segment - retired people and pensioners who have savings and time on their hands. It must be really annoying to local providers that there is less profit to be made from this group such is the level of investment required in making the Park more accessible to people wheeling oxygen tanks and wearing pace-makers. The only reason these places become a life-long dream to visit is because marketers are reaching out to them through various media painting a picture of a natural paradise. Surely, it is hard to absorb the energy of a place in five-minutes but hey, the less time they spend in the Park the more money they will spend in town.

I realise that I am fortunate that my healthy condition allows me to toil through spectacular scenery and enjoy all the perspiration and inspiration that it entails. However, it is troubling that in trying to connect man to nature that we are in fact disconnecting him. If there is a choice to hike or drive to the top then I'm sure the majority would choose the latter. Our obsession with economic vitality dictates that if some damage to the local environment is the price to pay for full employment and fortune, then so be it. However, the issue for me is that the more tourism there is the more competition there is amongst local businesses as new competitors join the fray. It is a futile exercise as while the pie gets bigger nobody gets a bigger slice, except of course the tax-man. Hmm, so local government is in on the act too; what a surprise!

The irony for Jackson is that the more they try to increase visitors to the town the more the locals are moving out. I'm as guilty of tourism as anyone else but I'm only ever a tourist in tourist towns. Everywhere else I'm a traveller and so I become frustrated with tourists who prevent me from enjoying the local interest and privileges that a traveller usually receives. A tourist town that has become desensitised to travellers is simply another irony. While the town of Jackson represents everything that is wrong with tourism it is hard to deny that the surrounding landscape is very pleasing on the eye. There is such natural bounty here that it is easy to see why Jackson has become the equivalent of San Francisco in 1849 as people rush to get rich quick from tourism. It is my hope that the situation in Jackson deteriorates even further. If we can quarantine all the tourists in one place then we might still be able to save beautiful Idaho and Montana from the same fate. It the tourists leak into these two states it will be a natural disaster. If there is ever talk of opening a new airport in these states it should be resisted. America is blessed in having a huge amount of wilderness compared to the over-populated and over-cultivated continent of Europe. I would support any effort made to prevent the further erosion of pristine landscape. I wonder will tourist boom-towns at some point suffer the same fate as their mining forebearers in becoming ghost-towns? Of course, such ghost towns all over America have been turned into tourist attractions and so the cycle perpetuates.

Nature is everywhere people, we don't need to travel far to enjoy it! (This from a guy who has had the luxury of being a tourist all over the world to form his view)

Mind how you go


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