Full disclosure. I’m a Yooper. I grew up on the southern shore of Lake Superior or as one of my friends once said, “So you’re basically Canadian?” In fact, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (UP) is so set apart from the rest of the country that it often doesn’t appear on maps of the United States. In the early 1960s, people in the UP formed the Upper Peninsula Independence Association and submitted a secession bill to the Michigan legislature. Michigan has two peninsulas, but the UP is a special place. While I grew up here, I am still continually amazed by the rugged and rural beauty of this place. You can drive, hike, canoe, or boat for hours without encountering another human soul.
Part of my appreciation for the place is rooted in the summer I turned 15 when I took a
job with the National Park Service’s Youth Conservation Corps. I cleared brush from trails, built a boardwalk to make a scenic lookout wheelchair accessible, and tore invasive plan species out of the ground. Sometimes, we had to canoe and portage to more remote parts of the park. Unfortunately, a lot of my job was cleaning up after visitors to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore: picking up trash from roadways, extinguishing smoldering campfires, and burying human waste and leftover foodstuffs to discourage bears from visiting campgrounds.
I share all of this because whenever I go home, I am struck by how little respect tourists have for the UP and its inhabitants. Droves of people leave noisy and cluttered cities to commune with nature; they are looking for something pure and pristine. However, when tourists leave their trash, speed down gravel roads, or walk off boardwalks that prevent erosion, they say “My experience is more important than anyone else’s.” To me, this approach and behavior are fundamentally opposed to the purpose of national parks and conservation zones. National parks are a uniquely American phenomenon. Many of our earliest settlers, explorers, and leaders account wilderness as an essential defining characteristic of America (for more on this check out Roderick Nash’s Wilderness and the American Mind).
My hometown is amazing. You should see it. Come, check out one of the most beautiful places on earth, but clean up your garbage, put out your fires, and be nice to the locals.