The biggest disadvantage of outdoor recreation is that it damages the land. People who go to visit the wilderness for its beauty, then play a role in the deterioration of it. Most of the landscapes that are visited are fragile ecosystems so will take years to recover from any damage. The most obvious form of damage is the litter that is left behind. National parks and most protected areas provide accommodation for visitors to stay in overnight in the form of campsites. This results in huge numbers of people being attracted into the park to take part in outdoor recreation in the summer months.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the United States attracts 11 million visitors every year. The sheer numbers involved means that there is going to be a certain amount of litter even if the visitors are careful to dispose of their rubbish in the correct fashion. The State of Tennessee has gone one step further and has made it a crime to drop litter. Offenders have to pay a fine and clean up their own mess, plus do community service cleaning up the park. Other visitors are encouraging to report the people dropping the litter by phoning a hotline number and reporting the incident.
The activities of walkers can often lead to the erosion of footpaths. This has been the case in the Lake District in the UK with there being severe erosion at Hole in the Wall in Ullswater. This has led to teams of upland rangers working on the damaged paths, trying to regenerate grass growth to bind the soil together. The rangers have been doing similar work for the past 25 years on the paths in the park.
The recent surge in interest in cycling has led to problems in the UK National Parks. In the New Forest in Hampshire the sheer numbers of cyclists have been blocking the country lanes and causing issues with the local people. On occasions they use the paths and the natural vegetation has been damaged. Another popular cycling activity is mountain biking where the bikers search for steep trails. This has been the case in the Devil’s Backbone in Colorado where mountain bikers have cut huge scars in the land as a result of their activities. The area is part of a fragile ecosystem and it will take years to repair.
Animals in the natural environment are often disturbed by hikers. The problem can be accentuated when pets are let off leads and run uncontrolled through the countryside scaring the wild animals. This can also occur on waterways when waterside nests of birds are disturbed by kayakers and canoers.The presence of camp sites causes enough problems to the environment. The presence of so many people in one site can cause soil and plant damage. The lighting of fires can cause problems if the fires are not properly marshalled, and sanitation in the area is also a major issue.
Damage to the environment has even been caused on Mount Everest. With 700 climbers each year attempting to scale the world’s highest mountain rubbish has been building up on the mountain side for a number of years. This has also included large amounts of human faeces. The Nepalese government are becoming more and more concerned with the health risks associated with so much human waste being left behind by the climbers and their support teams. While some climbers deal with their own waste there are many who do not, and this is an issues the Nepalese want to deal with.
Many countries are attempting to deal with the problems associated with outdoor recreation and environmental damage under the banner of eco-tourism. It would be a travesty if the environment suffered long term damage from those people who appear to enjoy it the most