Opinion—Be cautious of your impact while enjoying natural spaces

A+view+of+Marquettes+wilderness

Akasha Khalsa/NW. Marquette’s wilderness is beautiful and draws many students, tourists and residents to the area.

Aiden Popour

One of the main things that drew me to NMU was all the natural beauty surrounding the city of Marquette. All within a couple miles away are Sugarloaf Mountain, beaches on Lake Superior, Dead River Falls and many other beautiful locations. With 906 Day occurring last week, I saw that many people went out to enjoy these natural sites. However, seeing all these people out hiking and exploring has caused me to wonder about the effects of recreation on natural spaces.

According to NMU’s website, there are about 7,600 undergraduate students in attendance at the university. On top of that, there are about 66,699 citizens living in marquette county according to the most recent census information. That’s a fair amount of people, most of whom are likely to use the trails at some point while living here. When you have that many people, there is bound to be an effect. Even the effect of a few people can be significant.

When I was home over our summer break, there was a trail I liked to hike down in my local park. On one of my frequent walks there, I saw what looked like a wall of saplings in the forest. When I went over to look I saw it was in fact just what it looked like: many saplings which had been chopped down and made into walls. Inside the walls there were only a few trees left. Of the few trees left, most were stripped, and one of them had a large machete sticking out of it.

Now, I’m not saying many of us would do something like that. In fact, I feel that at NMU we are more environmentally inclined and therefore less likely to take advantage of our natural surroundings in such a harmful way. The thing is, sometimes simply going to a place can have an impact on the environment.

Take soil compression for example. There was a study done on trails in Israel which found that plant cover was reduced next to trails. This effect was also more pronounced in frequently used trails, which makes sense. I know I’ve observed this kind of impact while walking down trails.

The reduced plant cover near well-used paths is because of soil compression. When you walk over the ground, your weight squishes the mulch and minerals down a bit. And when enough people walk over a spot, it becomes too dense for plants to grow as easily. Simply walking somewhere has an impact.

That’s not even to mention littering, introduction of nonnative species, or removal of animals and plants from their environment. With invasive species it’s also a case of simply walking somewhere having an effect. The seeds of an invasive plant can get caught on the bottom of your shoe and then come off when you go somewhere else.

Does this mean we should stop enjoying and exploring our parks though? Of course not. It’s really cool and I think most of us enjoy it. Additionally, the more people who go into natural places and develop an appreciation for our environment, the more likely that we will be able to preserve our natural spaces.

We all just need to make sure we mitigate our impact. Follow the rules posted on signs. Try to stay on the trails. Don’t chop down saplings with a machete, obviously. Marquette is a really cool place, and we need to make sure it stays that way.