Breath of Clarity

Mount Whitney Management

The majority of the Mt. Whitney trail is above the tree line and therefore has inefficient soil levels to decompose human waste which detrimentally impacts soil, vegetation, and widlife (Manning et al. 2017). (Manning et al. 2017). Managers at Mt. Whitney deal with high visitor use through various strategies such as zoning, requiring permits, increasing leave no trace guidelines, educating visitors about regulations, and strengthening enforcement of the regulations. While the U.S. Forest Service approaches the situation with a goal to take all concerns into consideration, the National Park Service is more focused on preserving the area’s ecosystem (Manning et al. 2017). With principles of recreation ecology in mind, management at Mt. Whitney needs to be improved. However, it does not necessarily equate to the need to become stricter in all its strategies. While requiring permits would limit the amount of impact put on the terrain, it has the drawback of limiting connection humans can establish with the outdoors. Therefore, managers should focus on refining and allocate resources towards the other strategies in order to address the high amount of use. The issue is not that humans are connecting too much with pristine wilderness areas. Rather, the problem is that people are not treating the space as sacred while they are there. Zoning is useful as it helps managers put regulations in place that are custom-designed to support the needs of Mt. Whitney. That is simply a strategy to make management tactics more detailed which would not hurt the situation. Increasing leave no trace guidelines and improving educational outreach would be useful in thoroughly guiding people who want to act in alignment with the ecosystem they are visiting. Finally, strengthening enforcement of the regulations is crucial. The monetary consequence of breaking the law is not enough. People need to feel as though they are at a high risk of getting caught in order for those who do not intrinsically care about the ecology to not make detrimental impacts. Increasing the consequences needs to be coupled with educating visitors about the consequences. Also, managers need to focus on how they can make a sense of appreciation for the space embedded into the experience because it is going to be difficult to always be increasing the enforcement in hopes of cultivating the fear of getting caught. Education of the regulations must also focus on conveying the part visitors play in the entire ecological system and why it would matter to a single individual.


Manning, Robert E., Laura E. Anderson, and Peter R. Pettengill. 2017. Managing Outdoor Recreation: Case Studies in the National Parks. Wallingford: CAB International.

Comment by Fenton Kay:

Good points, Mary. How would you go about modifying the regulations and consequences in a situation like Mt Whitney so that the regs were clear, enforceable, and not necessarily fear-inducing?

My Comment:

Perhaps the consequences could be more so based upon dedicating time along with money to the park. For example, it can be a $200 violation and 100 hours worth of community service in the form of trail maintenance. I would also put signs in places where studies have shown people violating the regulations most frequently. To make them not fear-inducing, regulations can be communicated in a tone that honors the place’s historical significance and wonderful features as opposed to containing a strict tone. To make them clear, the employee at the entrance can verbally communicate the regulations and the visitors can take a short quiz to show they understand. People would be less likely to violate the rules insofar as they cannot play the card that they did not know the rules exist.

Comment by Fenton Kay:

Very good idea, Mary – except that the relative remoteness of Mt. Whitney would make community service on the site a bit tough.

My Comment:

Ah good point, perhaps those who violated the regulations can be mandated to complete community service at a less remote site that is linked to Mt. Whitney’s management body.

Comment by Cynthia Stierman:

Although, I love the idea of making violators perform services in the area that they violated the rules, I see a myriad of issues that would exist to prevent this from being a very effective measure in any National Park System (NPS). I first want to point out that most of my experiences with hiking, camping, and they outdoors are not at NPS sites but rather at state run sites, so I may not have the proper frame to make these observations, but I feel they are relevant. The first point is simply funding. You are going to need more money to put these programs in action. Funding to get more rangers out there to police these violations. Then there’s funding for follow-up on enforcement. How are they going to actually enforce follow through on violators performing these services? Fenton pointed the issue that some of these locations are very remote and although as you suggested Mary, they could perform these duties at less remote sites, it would be nearly impossible to enforce these actions. I don’t think court resources would be very well allocated to enforcement of this. Another issue is simply the amount of rangers that are available throughout these parks. I am going to make an assumption from something Andy said that most violations are found after the fact too. So, assigning the blame for an issue unless the ranger personally witnessed the action would be near impossible.

I want to reiterate that I think this is a good idea, but to make it feasible is a lot harder than a simple citation.