When asked how one might avoid crowds when climbing South Sister or backpacking the Green Lakes Basin in Oregon’s Three Sisters Wilderness, Jonathan Erickson came straight to the point.

“You don’t avoid them, at least not really,” the lead wilderness ranger said. “The crowds taper off once the weather gets worse and you’ll find less people out there on a Wednesday. But to be frank, there really isn’t a way to avoid a busy setting.”  ~

Mostly we like to be part of larges crowds, whether it be a packed sports stadium of fellow fans, swaying with concert goers, or being part of a sea of parents at our child’s high school or college graduation.  We feel good when we’re part of a popular event.  Even when spending time in nature, we expect large crowds at national parks and summer swimming holes and other recreation areas.  Opening day of fishing season always draws large number of anglers.

Sometimes we do seek quiet places, wanting solitude, hoping for moments when we can be alone with the natural world..

University of Idaho research that also was confirmed by this week’s story in the Oregonian Newspaper, shows that Oregon’s most visited wilderness, the Three Sisters, is struggling with impacts from large numbers of hikers.  The intriguing part is that the vast majority of those interviewed in the Three Sisters stated that large crowds did not take away from their “wilderness experience.”    Wow.   The huge crowds do affect the wilderness managers.  “I don’t even consider it a wilderness experience,” said Chris Sabo, trail crew supervisor for Deschutes National Forest. “It’s almost more of an urban park. The use is high, really beyond what this area can accommodate.” This combination of beauty, easy access and Oregon’s third-tallest summit create an area both spectacular and overrun.

There were 14,600 people who visited the South Sister, Green Lakes and Moraine Lake area in 2012 based on wilderness permits filled out — though the number has been closer to 18,000 in past years. A sunny weekend in August and September can see upwards of 400 people attempting to climb South Sister.

So, regulations were inevitable.

Backpackers are required to tent at designated campsites.  Campfires are strictly prohibited, and the fine for breaking that rule can reach a whopping $5,000 (though most first-time offenders would be hit with a “modest” $250 ticket).

Beyond regulation, education is needed, in Portland and Bend, in schools and on the trail.  Wilderness etiquette, and focusing use on other areas of the high mountain country that don’t see as many crowds.  ~

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