New group conducting routine City Creek trail maintenance

POCATELLO — Some of the paths within the City Creek Trail system are no longer choked by overgrown brush and overhanging branches, thanks to a new volunteer group.

The volunteers meet twice per month to conduct City Creek trail maintenance. They say trail users should expect to see more sections of the popular recreation area better manicured in the near future. 

Old Town Pocatello-based East Fork Bikes has partnered with the staff at Fairway Independent Mortgage to organize regular volunteer trail maintenance shifts, starting at 7 p.m. on the first and third Tuesdays of each summer month. The group launched on June 18 and plans to continue with trail maintenance through September. 

Volunteers meet at East Fork, 346 N. Main St., and gather back at the shop after completing their work for a free dinner. The Sand Trap Grill caters the food at a discounted rate, and a few local businesses, such as Brizzee Family Medicine and Art of Motion Chiropractic pitch in to help buy the meals.

“If we want the quality of the trails to stay the same then more people are going to have to start pitching in on the maintenance of the trails,” said Ty Nelson, owner of East Fork. “You don’t have to be a biker to come help with the trail maintenance.”

Jeremy Lambson, with Fairway Independent Mortgage, said he and his staff were mulling ways to do community service. As an avid cyclist since 1994, he thought trail maintenance at City Creek would be an apt way to give back to the community — especially given that the former Pedal Fest mountain bike race, which used to raise funds for building bridges and other projects at City Creek — has been discontinued.

“We felt somebody needed to keep that up,” Lambson said, referring to the void left in the absence of Pedal Fest. “We just saw a need.”

Lambson approached Nelson about the concept. Nelson already had similar plans in mind. During the most recent maintenance session, about 17 volunteers showed up to work for about two hours, trimming branches throughout the entire main stem trail of City Creek.

During the next maintenance session, Lambson said the group will focus on the Burrito and Prison Loop trails — cutting weeds, installing erosion bars and filling in ruts.

Lambson anticipates participation in the maintenance sessions will grow considerably.

“On any give day, we’ve got 400 to 500 trail users on City Creek alone, and I would say we’ve got another 400 to 500 runners,” Lambson said. “It shouldn’t be hard to get 40 (volunteers) one day for an hour and a half.”

The group works closely with the city in planning its projects.

Lambson also envisions organizing a bike festival in August, to be called the Rubber Side Down Festival. He’s planning to host road cycling and mountain biking relay races for teams of four.

“We want to involve anybody who cycles in any capacity,” Lambson said.

Though the group is devoted to trail maintenance, Lambson also plans to pursue approval for a new trail this fall, which would be an advanced course for downhill bikers spanning from the Ritalin trail to 911.

Casey Hyde, another volunteer from the mortgage company, hopes the maintenance nights will “gain traction” so that they become a local summer tradition.

For more information about the group, visit East Fork Bikes on Facebook.

Adventure-seekers can find plenty at Idaho’s City of Rocks

ALMO — Want to find an adventure without the hustle and bustle of the typical tourist town? Almo and its surrounding recreational areas may provide the seclusion you’re looking for.

The tiny village is often described as a town lost in time. The California Trail, alternate routes of the Old Oregon Trail, and old stagecoach routes are still evident in many locations throughout the area.

Looming above 10,000 feet, Cache Peak is Idaho’s highest peak south of the Snake River. The appearance of the peak and its sister summits ahead of westbound emigrants on the Old Oregon Trail signaled the “Parting of the Ways” near Raft River, where folks decided whether to continue northwest to Oregon or take the “last exit” to the California gold fields.

Those who turned southwest toward California found what they called the “Silent City of Rocks” in Idaho just north of the Utah border. Hundreds of emigrants between 1843 and 1882 wrote their names in axle grease on towering granite boulders and camped in the future park before continuing into Nevada.

Superintendent

Superintended Wallace Keck points out emigrant names written in axle grease on Camp Rock at City of Rocks National Reserve near Almo in 2017.

Margaret A. Frink, an emigrant on the California Trail, traveled through what she called a “stone village” in July 1850.

“It is a sublime, strange, and wonderful scene — one of nature’s most interesting works,” Frink wrote in her journal.

Nestled in the Albion Mountains just east of the City of Rocks National Reserve, Almo was an early hub of activity on the trail. To this day, the unincorporated community — home to numerous ranching families — remains a hub but for rock climbers, photographers, birders, hunters, campers and cyclists.

The visitor center for the reserve and nearby Castle Rocks State Park is in Almo, open seven days a week from mid-April to mid-October, and Tuesday through Saturday during the winter months.

An estimated 240,000 emigrants passed through the Almo area on their way to California in the 1800s; today, the National Park Service estimates the number of “visits” to the City of Rocks and nearby Castle Rocks State Park at 290,000 annually.

Old photo

The “Silent City of Rocks” is where the Holladay Stagecoach and the Kenton Freight Road met the California Trail. The trail is seen looking toward the Twin Sisters at City of Rocks National Reserve. Charles Trotter and his brother-in-law Charles Walgamott ran the stage stop near here in the early 1870s.

Climbing and bouldering

Castle Rocks and “the City” are internationally renowned among climbers, boulderers and sightseers alike. Some 60,000 climbers hit the rocks every year, said Wallace Keck, City of Rocks National Reserve superintendent since 2002.

“The City of Rocks hit the national climbing magazines in the 1980s and the word spread,” Keck said.

More than 600 established climbing routes from 30 to 600 feet high are rated from a relatively easy “5.6” to an extremely difficult “5.14” spread over nearly 16,000 acres. Guidebooks to both the City and Castle Rocks are available at the visitor center, he said.

The National Park Service offers several opportunities to learn how to climb at the City before spending money on climbing equipment.

“For about $40, our rangers in the Climbing Experience program will take you out to an easy route so you can get the feel of the rock to find out if you like it,” Keck said.

He added, “Climbing can be expensive — $700 for equipment.”

In addition, rangers have offered the First Time Climbing program for children several times a year. Children are harnessed so they can climb without danger of falling, then lowered to the ground safely by ropes.

Family

Phillip Christensen and his sons — from left, Eugene, 4, Orson, 2, and Jed, 7 — check out City of Rocks National Reserve near Almo on March 26.

“We want children to come to the City,” Keck said. “In the eight years we’ve been doing the ‘First Time’ program, we’ve never had an accident.”

Guide services are available for those who want to continue the sport.

Wildlife abounds

An avid photographer, Keck splits his time managing both the reserve and the state park, an old ranch obtained by the state in 2003.

“I would never go out to the backcountry without a camera,” he said. “Put me wherever there are birds and plants. That’s where I’m happy.”

Mountain lions, bobcats, moose, elk and mule deer frequent the park, evidenced by the piles of droppings they leave.

Raptors such as the red-tailed hawk and the harrier hawk can be found year-round, while other hawks come and go with the seasons, Keck said.

The annual “Birding Big Day Blitz” in early June brings in some of the best birders in Idaho, he said. Birding competitors pair up to check off as many species of birds they can spot in a 24-hour period.

“We’re still studying and learning what we have,” Keck said.

Winter sports

Nordic skiing and snowshoeing are popular ways to follow the California Trail through the City. Snow depths average 3 to 5 feet in the lower elevations. Snowshoes can be rented at the visitor center.

For more extreme winter sports, Pomerelle Mountain Resort is a short drive away on Mount Harrison near Albion.

Want to spend the night? Reservations are a must

Whether visitors drive in, bicycle in or walk in, the City includes 64 standard campsites, three group sites, and an RV park with water and electricity. The City also includes campsites with corrals for horses.

Brothers

Elijah Willians pulls up his brother Yonatan, 12, while sightseeing March 26 at City of Rocks National Preserve near Almo.

Castle Rocks rents out the state park’s historic ranch house called “The Lodge,” a bunkhouse and a glamping yurt. The Lodge offers modern amenities such as a fully equipped kitchen, spacious bathroom with tub and shower, flat-screen TV/DVD with Roku, Wi-Fi and propane grill.

But don’t expect to find a place to throw out your bedroll without a reservation.

“June is our busiest month, then September,” Keck said.

More information, including camping rules and fees, can be found at the National Park Service website at nps.gov/ciro/planyourvisit/camping.htm.

The City of Rocks National Reserve is open 365 days a year. All roads are gravel, so, depending on weather conditions, some roads may be impassable from November through April. Call the Visitor Center at 208-824-5901 for the latest road conditions.

Combat trap shooting

I’ve written articles every year covering the Scooter’s Youth Hunting Camp that I help with. I’ve done seminars at all of the big outdoor stores and most of the big outdoor shows. And no doubt, I love that. But the funnest (spell check says funnest isn’t a word but what do they know about the different levels of fun?) event that I do all year is the SYHC, and we don’t get paid a penny for helping.

I think you get your most joy when you help others who can’t repay you. Sure, you have to hustle hard to make a living, but surely in the midst of all of that, you can help someone worse off once in a while can’t you? Anyway, SYHC is a high-speed camp, and it takes a lot of volunteer work to make it all gel. To show his appreciation to the volunteers, founder Scott McGann puts on a volunteer barbecue.

Sure, we have fun eating. It’s a potluck-type of meal and usually the main course is something like a Subway sandwich etc. This year, Scott had some guys grill some steaks that he bought from Owyhee Meats. The fellowship is fun and the volunteers can bring their kids.

Scott even has a small drawing for some gifts. It’s kinda cool. Some of the kids that have been to the camp before have decided that it’d be better if they didn’t try to get in again so another kid can go. So, the next year they volunteer to be a helper at the camp instead of a participant. A couple of the donor companies let him put a prize in the drawing so some of the volunteer kids got to get a gift. For instance, one kid won a Knives of Alaska Xtreme Series capping knife and so the drawing went.

But the big-time, over-the-top deal is the shooting afterward. As you can imagine, I like to shoot. I don’t do a ton of organized shooting, just mainly hunting. But, this is the best clay bird shooting set-up I have ever experienced.

Here’s the format. We set up four throwers in a line and eight shooters line up intermittently between them. They will start throwing birds as fast as they can. When your gun is empty, birds are still flying. You’re cramming shells in your shotgun and shooting as fast as you can.

In the beginning, if I remember correctly, we had five throwers and as many shooters as could cram on the line. That was really wild. Now we’re more organized. Well, sorta. Now each shooter will shoot about three gun loads and back up and let another shooter step up. By then your gun is smoking hot anyway.

You have to be wired to the max. Not only do you have to hit the bird but, you also have to get a shot off before the other seven shooters. Birds will be flying left, right, sideways and straight away. You never know what is going to pop out where. It is an amazing amount of fun.

So if you want to put on a fun family event, company event or shooting club event, you ought to try out a combat trap shooting deal. No one will be disappointed.

It may sound wild to you, but just put in a few simple (and normal) safety rules to ensure that no one goes home perforated. Behind the shooting line, all actions are open.

You can only load your shotgun while at the shooting line with the barrel pointed down range. We chalk a shooting line that anyone with a loaded gun has to stand at.

Have fun — and P.S. Bring plenty of shells!

Tom Claycomb lives in Idaho and has outdoors columns in newspapers in Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and Louisiana.

No surprises, winter survival estimates for mule deer below average, better for elk

Significant February snowstorms coupled with a cool, wet spring resulted in below-average survival rates for radio collared mule deer fawns, but it had less effect on collared elk calves, according to the final survival estimates for the 2018-19 winter.

Statewide, 42 percent of radio collared fawns survived through the winter. As wildlife managers expected, it was below the long-term average of 58 percent. For elk, 69 percent of radio collared calves were alive at the end of May. Idaho Fish and Game biologists monitored 209 mule deer fawns and 196 elk calves that were captured in early winter and fitted with telemetry collars.

How do the numbers compare to recent years?

Through May 31, 42 percent of the collared fawns and 69 percent of the calves were still alive. That compares with 57 percent of the fawns and 66 percent of the calves surviving through May in 2017-18, and 30 and 52 percent through May 2016-17, which was an unusually harsh winter.

Elk have not been trapped and collared for as many years as mule deer, and elk calves typically survive at a higher rate than mule deer fawns. Since researchers began collaring elk calves in 2014-15, survival has ranged between a low of about 52 percent in 2016-17 to a high of 84 percent in 2014-15. This year, 69 percent of collared elk calves survived the winter, which falls near the middle of that range.

Adult cow, doe survival high

Adult deer and elk typically survive at high rates unless it’s an extreme winter.

Of the 539 radio-collared mule deer does being monitored by Fish and Game researchers, 91 percent were alive through May 31, and 96 percent of the 578 collared cows survived.

Plan to expand hunting, fishing in wildlife refuges revealed

OAK HARBOR, Ohio (AP) — The Trump administration on Wednesday proposed opening up more federally protected land for hunting and fishing in what it called a major expansion of those activities in the nation’s wildlife refuges.

The plan affects 1.4 million acres on federal public lands, including 74 national wildlife refuges, U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said at the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge along Lake Erie in northern Ohio.

The proposal would allow hunting and fishing for the first time at 15 national fish hatcheries. The department also wants to revise hunting and fishing rules at refuges in all states to more closely match state regulations.

Interior Department land managers were told last September to review hunting and fishing regulations to determine where they conflict with state regulations, with a goal of deferring to state management unless they clash with federal law.

A comprehensive review of federal and state rules is something that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had never been done before, Bernhardt said.

Under the proposed expansion at sites in 46 states, the number of wildlife refuges where hunting would be allowed would increase by five to 382 while fishing would be allowed at 316 locations.

“It’s a dramatic statement about our commitment to access,” Bernhardt said, adding: “The goal is to get more people out.”

Lack of access to hunting and fishing sites is one of the most common reasons people don’t begin those activities, Bernhardt said.

One of the new refuges where hunting and fishing would be allowed is Green Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin. Deer and elk hunting would be allowed for the first time at Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge.

The expansion is the largest proposed by the administration to date, Bernhardt said.

The plan is to finalize the proposal by September after public comment.

City of Rocks, Castle Rocks now trash can free

Visitors heading to City of Rocks National Reserve and Castle Rocks State Park will need to add trash bags to their camping kits. The last trash cans in the parks have been removed from the Bath Rock area last month.

Due to stagnant budgets, a National Park Service Green Parks Plan and increasing fees to use the Almo roll-off station, the reserve and state park have gone to a pack-it-in, pack-it-out policy. For the time being, visitors can pick up trash bags from the visitor center in Almo and bring the bags back after their visit if they can’t take their trash home.

Park Superintendent Wallace Keck is asking visitors to plan ahead and suggests getting rid of as much packaging that you can before coming to the park. The parks had a record number of 240,000 visitors last year so a little extra trash adds up fast.

“We know we can’t change the culture, but we can start to be part of the push for the pack-it-in and pack-it-out initiative,” Keck said. “Many national parks that have gone this direction.”

The park began removing trash cans in April, but several areas such as the Twin Sisters and Circle Creek Overlook have been trash-can-free for the last four to five years.

“We’re not concerned about tent campers at the City leaving trash because they seem to be more eco-conscious,” said Tara Cannon, assistant park manager.

Without the receptacles, Cannon says, the staff hasn’t seen an uptick in trash being left behind.

The park is beginning a Leave No Trace program led by Jen McCabe, a ranger at the park. Staff is also going to begin adding signage to let visitors know about the policy change.

Staff members spent fall, winter and part of spring studying the issue. With the increased fees to use the Almo roll-off station — the park has to pay a commercial rate — they decided it wasn’t feasible to pay to use that location or drive their dump truck the roughly 100 miles round trip to Milner to dump the trash. Paying a private contractor may be too expensive also, though they will use one for a smaller amount of waste and see how much that will cost.

They decided the best solution was to reduce the amount of waste as possible.

“We’re going to figure this out and not leave visitors hanging with dirty diapers,” said Keck.

Where to catch the fun in Southeast Idaho on Free Fishing Day

If you have never “dunked a worm” or “wet a fly”, you don’t know what you are missing! And, here is your chance to find out. Saturday is Free Fishing Day in Idaho, which means anyone can fish without a license on any of Idaho’s waters open to fishing.

To help celebrate the day, there will be several Free Fishing Day events around Southeast Idaho. Even if you or your kids do not know how to fish, there will be plenty of helpful hands at the various events to assist with fishing basics, from baiting a hook to reeling in a catch. Poles, bait and other gear will be available for use for free at the events while supplies last.

Bannock Reservoir in Pocatello

Join us at Bannock Reservoir at the Portneuf Wellness Complex from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. for lots of fishing fun. This event is open to anglers of all ages, and there will be free raffles for wonderful prizes. This event is also part of the Idaho State Journal’s Family Fun Day, which runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the complex.

The Portneuf Wellness Complex is located on Olympus Drive, north of the old Bannock County Fairgrounds. Please note that there is a two-fish limit at this pond, but the fun is limitless!

Edson Fichter Pond in Pocatello

This event is being hosted by South East Idaho Fly Fishers and Pocatello’s own Snake River Fly. This event is open to anglers of all ages and runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Those attending the event can sign up for free raffles for wonderful prizes and grab a free lunch. Folks will be on hand to teach fly fishing basics. Fly fishing equipment will be available for use on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information about this particular event, contact Dave Raisch at 208-406-4593.

The Edson Fichter Nature Area is behind Indian Hills Elementary School at 666 Cheyenne Ave. in south Pocatello. Please note that there is a two-fish limit at this pond.

Kelly Park Pond (upper pond) in Soda Springs

This event is being jointly hosted by Idaho Fish and Game and the city of Soda Springs. The event runs from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. A free hot dog lunch will be provided, complete with cookies and lemonade. Rounding out the fun, there will be a free raffle for various prizes, including a prize for the biggest fish!

The event is open to anglers aged 13 and younger, and all kids under the age of 8 must be accompanied by an adult. There is also a three-fish limit.

Kelly Park is at 325 N. Kelly Park Road. Access to the upper pond is via a quarter-mile hiking trail beginning at the Kelly Park parking lot.

Fish Hatchery in Grace

This event is hosted by Fish and Game and runs from 9 a.m. to 1 p,m. Anglers aged 14 and younger are welcome to participate. All kids under the age of 8 must be accompanied by an adult. Young anglers can keep up to two fish each. The settling ponds at this hatchery hold some big fish and should provide some exciting fishing. There will also be a free drawing for raffle prizes.

Grace Fish Hatchery is at 390 Fish Hatchery Road.

***

For more information about fishing opportunities in the region or the upcoming Free Fishing Day events, contact the Fish and Game office in Pocatello at 208-232-4703 or visit idfg.idaho.gov.

Remember, you don’t have to enjoy a specific event to get the benefits of Free Fishing Day! Just get outside and enjoy a day of fishing on Saturday without the need of a license! All other fishing rules apply, so make sure to check the fishing regulations before you head off to “reel in” some fun.

State refuses to recognize bighorn as biggest ever for Idaho

BOISE — The Idaho Department of Fish and Game will not recognize as a state record a bighorn sheep that was killed nearly three years ago by a Nez Perce Tribe member because the agency said the ram was shot in violation of state hunting regulations, even though those regulations do not apply to tribe members hunting on ancestral lands.

But the Boone and Crockett Club hunting group has recognized the kill by hunter Gary Sublett in September 2016 as being within his tribe’s 1855 rights and has invited him to its Big Game Awards banquet in early August in Springfield, Missouri, where the bighorn’s head will go on display.

The animal’s massive horns rank No. 1 for Idaho and No. 26 for the U.S. and Canada on Boone and Crockett’s list of largest Rocky Mountain bighorns.

“It is the largest that we have recorded from Idaho,” said Justin Spring, director of Boone and Crockett Club’s Big Game Records. “From what we’ve seen, there were no reasons why we wouldn’t accept that entry.”

Idaho Fish and Game had closed the area to bighorn sheep hunting and Sublett said he was heavily criticized after he killed the bighorn at the end of a three-day hunt in an area called Hells Canyon. The canyon forms part of the Idaho-Oregon border and Sublett was on the Idaho side of the canyon about 40 miles west of the Nez Perce Tribe’s reservation in northern Idaho but within the tribe’s ancestral lands.

“There were people calling me everything but a human being,” said Sublett. “In this canyon, there are petroglyphs and arrowheads. My tribe has lived in that canyon for over 10,000 years.”

Fish and Game spokesman Roger Phillips said state officials recognize the treaty but won’t recognize the bighorn as being the biggest killed in Idaho.

“We’re not going to call it an illegal kill,” said Idaho Fish and Game spokesman Roger Phillips. “But for our state records, they have to be in accordance with our fish and game laws.”

The 1855 treaty gives Nez Perce Tribe members access to federal public land on about 26,500 square miles of the tribe’s ancestral areas that are now part of Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Montana. About 3,500 tribal members can use those rights retained when the tribe ceded the land to the U.S. government.

The Boone and Crockett Club said it recognizes Sublett’s ram because of the treaty and because the tribe has a management plan for sustainable hunting of bighorns.

The tribe was notable for helping Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery as it traversed through the region in the early 1800s. The tribe is also known for its unsuccessful flight from the U.S. military to Canada in 1877. Sublett said he’s a direct descendant of Nez Perce leader Looking Glass, killed in the Bear Paw Mountains in a battle during that attempted flight.

Sublett said he has used the treaty rights to hunt bighorns in Hells Canyon and some neighboring areas since the mid-1970s. He said he has killed 10 bighorns and that nine of them rank as trophies by scoring more than 180 points in Boone and Crockett scoring.

Non-tribal hunters in Idaho face long odds of winning a tag to hunt Rocky Mountain bighorns or California bighorns, the other species in the state. Non-tribal hunters can kill one of each in their lifetimes.

Bighorn poachers in Idaho face stiff penalties. In 2016, Paul Cortez of Nampa received a fine of $10,000, 30 days in jail and a lifetime hunting ban for killing a trophy bighorn sheep along the Salmon River in Idaho.

Sublett said there was a lot of publicity about his bighorn ram before he killed it, including speculation it might be a potential trophy for Idaho’s annual bighorn ram auction tag that could sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. But that ended after Sublett, 62, killed the ram.

“They acted like I basically robbed the bank and got away with it,” he said.

The Nez Perce Tribe declined to comment about the bighorn.

The tribe has played a leading role in Idaho in attempting to preserve bighorn sheep habitat. Among those efforts, the tribe was part of a federal lawsuit that concluded in 2010 and forced the removal of domestic sheep from parts of the Payette National Forest, including portions of Hells Canyon. Domestic sheep carry diseases that can wipe out bighorn herds.

Meanwhile, Idaho lawmakers in 2009 passed legislation favoring domestic sheep producers and limiting Idaho Fish and Game’s ability to transplant bighorns to expand bighorn populations to suitable bighorn habitat in the state.

Wildflowers and photography at Craters of the Moon National Monument

Fueled by a wet May, this year’s wildflower bloom may be one for the record books. Look for the annual eruption of wildflowers to begin in early June leading to peak bloom in the middle of the month. Come out to Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve near Arco and see the flowers and learn to take better pictures by joining us for the following events in June.

Saturday, Wildflower Walk from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.: Join former Park Ranger Doug Owen on a guided 2-mile walk that will cover a variety of habitats and introduce participants to a number of plant species. Donations will be accepted by the Natural History Association to support transportation assistance for local schools. Pack a lunch, bring water and wear sturdy shoes. Reservations are required and walks will be limited to 25 people. Contact the park at 208-527-1335 or crmo_information@nps.gov to make a reservation.

June 14-15, Nature Photography Seminar: The seminar from 1 to 3 p.m. Friday will focus on tips, techniques, and practices to improve your nature photography. Field session is all day Saturday, which is Nature Photography Day. Instructors will be Doug Owen and Jerry Dodds, both professional photographers. Participants will be taken to many different venues in the park to take pictures including several rarely seen by visitors. Keeping it simple and fun will be emphasized. Participants will also be learning naturalist skills, ethics and field craft that will improve your success rate in nature photography while protecting the environment. Donations will be accepted by the Natural History Association to support transportation assistance for local schools. Reservations are required and the class is limited to 25 people. Contact the park at 208-527-1335 or crmo_information@nps.gov to make a reservation.

June 15, “Capturing Intimate Landscapes with your Cell Phone” presentation from 9:30 to 10:30 p.m.: Join our 2019 artist-in-residence, David Hunter, for a special public presentation. He will provide tips on using your cellphone camera and share stories about his photographic adventures in the national parks. The presentation will take place in the Lava Flow Campground amphitheater.

4 ways to be a good traveler in the age of overtourism

In Paris, the Louvre Museum closed for a day recently because workers said the crowds were too big to handle. In the Himalayas, climbers at Mount Everest are concerned that the peak has gotten too crowded, contributing to the highest death toll in years.

In cities and destinations around the world, from Barcelona to Bali, “overtourism” has become a year-round problem.

When fields of wildflowers in Lake Elsinore, California, were overrun this spring by tourists seeking the perfect photo, the city tweeted bluntly about the impact of traffic jams and trampled hillsides: “We know it has been miserable and has caused unnecessary hardships for our entire community.” Last summer, it was a sunflower field outside of Toronto that got trampled after becoming Instagram-famous.

A mashup of discount airlines, inexpensive Airbnb rooms and social media shares have brought the blessing of tourist dollars and the growing curse of noisy crowds and even dangerous conditions to places once known for off-the-beaten-path charm or idyllic silence.

“Tourists are trampling the very attraction they’ve come to witness,” says Joel Deichmann, a global studies professor at Bentley University in Massachusetts.

Some communities have begun pushing back with regulations and public service announcements telling tourists to behave.

How do you visit these places without doing harm? Four tips from experts:

1. REMEMBER, IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT YOU.

Venturing far from home and experiencing an unfamiliar culture can be transformative, bringing a sense of freedom and even hedonism. But don’t forget: This is already someone’s culture, someone’s home.

So beyond simply choosing a hotel, really research the place you want to visit. What kind of behavior is appropriate there? What are the environmental policies? If you’re booking through a travel service, ask them for guidance.

“This isn’t Disney,” says Rachel Dodds, founder of the consulting firm Sustaining Tourism.

Pavia Rosati, founder of the travel service Fathom and co-author of the book “Travel Anywhere” (Hardie Grant, 2019) reminds travelers going to exotic destinations: “You are not here to just add something foreign to your collection.”

It might seem logical to put on a tank top and shorts in Thailand’s 100-degree heat. But if you’re going to visit Buddhist temples, it’s considered disrespectful.

“Err on the side of conservative dressing,” Rosati says.

Deichmann, who frequently travels abroad with his students, advises them to be sensitive and take cues from local residents. For example, he says, on a subway or bus in European cities, locals are usually reading or sitting quietly. Follow their lead: Avoid loud conversations or getting up to snap photos.

The same goes for late-night partying: If you’re at an all-inclusive resort on a few hundred acres of gated lands, party as you wish. But if you’re staying in an Airbnb apartment, realize that the person on the other side of the wall might need to put their baby to sleep or get up for work early.

2. PUT PICTURE-TAKING IN PERSPECTIVE

With phone cameras, we’ve become accustomed to taking pictures constantly. But taking photos of people, their children and their homes can be invasive.

Also, respect the physical environment. It may seem obvious, but don’t walk on the wildflowers to get the best photo.

And consider the risks: At Kaaterskill Falls in New York’s Catskill Mountains, four tourist deaths in recent years have been attributed to attempts to take dramatic selfies.

You’ll probably enjoy your experiences more fully if you spend less time snapping photos, says University of Denver assistant professor Gia Nardini, co-author of a study on the subject.

And showing restraint can help protect the place you’re enjoying from overtourism.

“If you take that picture,” Dodds asks, “will 1,000 people arrive the next day to take that same picture?”

3. GIVE BACK

When Rosati was planning a cruise along the Amazon River, she knew she’d be stopping in villages where children needed basics like pencils, crayons and paper. So “one-third of my suitcase was school supplies,” she says. Once there, she gave them away and filled the space in her suitcase with local crafts.

Consider spending money in the local economy rather than at international hotel chains, and seek out locally owned restaurants and bars.

To help the environment, use public transportation as much as possible.

“You’re going to have a better experience” too, says Dodds.

Finally, take your packaging with you when you leave a place. And never buy gifts made from endangered animals or other illegal materials.

4. SAY HELLO

“My dad used to say you need to learn to say, ‘How can I get a cup of coffee’ in the local language,” says Dodds, author of a new book, “Overtourism: Issues, Realities and Solutions” (De Gruyter Oldenbourg, 2019).

Even in places where many locals speak English, learning a few words in their language — please, thank you, yes, no — will earn you good will and a more authentic experience.

Also, be patient and respectful of those trying to manage the crowds. At the Louvre, union representatives had complained that renovation work around the Mona Lisa led to organizational problems, long lines and harassment of staff by tourists. They said staff numbers have diminished over the past decade even as the number of visitors rose 20 percent.

Amid the excitement of even bucket list-level travel, Deichmann says, keep in mind: “What if this were your village?”