Mountains Without Handrails
Reflections on the National Parks
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Chapter 5
The Compromise Called For

The great bulk of recreational activity will always be of the conventional kind—a day on the beach, a picnic in the park, or a weekend at a resort hotel. The idea is not that reflective recreation should consume all our leisure time, but rather that we should develop a taste for it, and that stimulating the appetite should be a primary function of national parks.

The principal change such a policy would engender is this: Rather than seeking mainly to serve the wide variety of recreational preferences visitors bring with them, park managers would encourage all visitors—whatever their past experiences or skills—to try more challenging and demanding recreation. While the Park Service may believe it is doing this effectively now, the actual pattern of park visitations suggests a quite different conclusion.

Under present practice, a great variety of different areas are available to the visitor, ranging from such easily accessible and rather urbanized places as Yosemite Valley and the South Rim of Grand Canyon to remote backcountry wilderness. In practical effect, however, visitors are channeled to those places that reflect their present preferences and are effectively insulated from set tings unfamiliar to them. A first-time visitor to Yosemite National Park, for example, is overwhelmingly likely to find himself in Yosemite Valley, a place full of roads, hotels, stores, and crowds. His opportunity for an experience of contemplative recreation is quite limited, not simply because he has chosen that place, but because that is the face the park almost inevitably presents to someone in his position.

A policy committed to promoting reflective recreation as one of its major goals would focus on the individual who might be willing to try such an experience, but who is neither experienced nor ready to make a substantial commitment. This is the affirmative side of the preservationists concern about how other people use the parks. The casual or inexperienced visitor may have been attracted by articles or films illustrating the splendors of the forested wilderness or of a wild river adventure. He may be ready to take the plunge if a practicable opportunity is presented.

Such inclinations could be encouraged. Yet the wilderness backcountry is too rugged for him and the popular gathering places too urbanized. To make wilderness areas more accessible, by installing roads there, would put the visitor in the wilderness without exposing him to it, and would also intrude upon others' opportunities to experience challenging wild areas. Places like Yosemite Valley, easily accessible and yet splendid in its scenery and resources, would be an ideal place for such a beginner if it were much less developed and less crowded. The paradox is that an effective policy will not be advanced simply by establishing more wilderness areas, for no matter how much we enlarge the backcountry, and no matter how small the areas devoted to city-type development and motorized nature-loop drives, those latter places will remain the principal magnets for most park visitors.

A related difficulty arises when management commingles the service function with the task of offering novel and challenging experiences. A now-shelved plan to build a motorized tramway to the top of Guadalupe Peak in Guadalupe Mountain National Park in Texas illustrates the problem. [1] The park is situated in a lonely area between El Paso and Carlsbad Caverns and contains the highest elevation in Texas. Jutting out of the surrounding barren country, Guadalupe Peak provides a moderate walk of a few hours to a fine prospect. But the park has virtually no developed facilities and is little visited. A few years ago, the National Park Service published a plan noting that many people want to experience the wilderness, but find it difficult or too time consuming. The plan therefore proposed the construction of a tramway to carry visitors to the top of the mountain so they could look down into a wilderness area. This, the plan noted, "will be truly a wilderness threshold experience." [2] Peering at a wilderness from a tramway station, however, is not a wilderness experience; the sense of wilderness is not achieved by standing at its threshold, but by engaging it from within. Not everyone will seize the chance to experience wilderness, even in the modest dose that Guadalupe Park presents. The opportunity can and should be offered as a choice, to be accepted or rejected; but it should not be falsified or domesticated.

If we want authentic choices, we will have to make some compromises, for we can't have places like Yosemite Valley both as an accessible place for a distinctive recreational experience and as a place to serve conventional tourist demands. One possible compromise is to try fully to serve the quantitative demand for conventional recreation and to provide opportunities for all the different kinds of activities the public wants, but not to assure those opportunities in locations that have a special value for reflective recreation. To some extent, of course, we already follow such a policy in the national parks. In general, resorts, and activities like tennis, golf, and pool swimming are excluded from the parks. So long as there is a reasonable opportunity somewhere to participate in all the various activities we want, and with a considerable degree of amenity and convenience, we can reserve critical areas in the parks from conventional tourism without destroying the chance for a conscious choice by the tourist. There would be changes, of course—a reduction in urbanizing influences, with less auto traffic, less densely developed accommodations, a sharp deemphasis on standardized concessioner activities for the novice or bored visitor, and a removal of the resort-type atmosphere that has grown up around some of the park hotels.

To be sure this proposal is a compromise, and it does not meet the desires of the visitor who wants to play tennis or go to a nightclub in the shadows of Yosemite's magnificent scenery, who likes the crowds, or who wants to ride a motorcycle at high speed through a desert park. The value of such an arrangement is that it forces us to separate in our minds contemplative from conventional service recreation. Such unbundling of differing wants clarifies the extent to which we are willing to subject ourselves to self-coercion. It requires us to ask ourselves whether we are going to a park because it is a special, challenging, and unfamiliar place without ordinary comforts and services. It puts the symbolism of the parks before us, not as an abstract image, but as a decision with consequences.

One practical difficulty with such an approach grows our of the spectacular increase in recreational use that we have been experiencing in recent years. [3] The demand for service recreation is so great and is growing so fast that it might seem impossible to provide the quantity demanded without imposing even further than we have already on national parks. The problem is not as intractable as it appears to be. Our ability to accommodate elsewhere demands that now press upon national park areas depends significantly on the importance assigned to reserving park areas. An incident in the history of the Olympic National Park (though dealing with commercial demand rather than recreation) provides a revealing example of the relationship between the value we assign to parks and our ability to meet the range of demands that are made upon them.

Olympic National Park in Washington was established largely because of its magnificent stands of Sitka spruce. The Olympic peninsula is also an important area for commercial timber harvesting. Timber companies had long been eager to log the land in the park, and there had been continual dispute over park boundaries. These disputes were relatively quiescent when World War II broke out. [4]

It happened that Sitka spruce wood was peculiarly valuable for military airplane production and was in short supply. Pressures began to mount to permit logging (which is generally prohibited in national parks) in Olympic Park during the war and for the war effort. The War Production Board, whose job it was to assure adequate supplies of material, recommended that timber harvesting be permitted in the park. This situation presented an agonizing dilemma for Park Service officials. They were extremely reluctant to see the park's most distinctive resource impaired. At the same time, both as a matter of conviction and prudence, the official position of the Park Service was one of determined support for the war effort.

The problem was made especially complex by two additional facts. One was a suspicion that the park's lumber might not be needed, and that, to a significant extent, the war effort was being used as a wedge by the local timber industry to get under cover of patriotic need what it had failed to get in peacetime. In addition, the Park Service had bitter memories of World War I, when considerable industrial intrusions had been made on the national parks, particularly for grazing. The Park Service had the good fortune to be supported by a strong secretary of the interior, Harold Ickes. With Ickes's backing Park Service Director Newton Drury issued a public statement saying,

The virgin forests in the national parks should not be cut unless the trees are absolutely essential to the prosecution of the war, with no alternative, and only as a last resort. Critical necessity rather than convenience should be the governing reason for such sacrifice of an important part of our federal estate.

The policy adopted did not end with a statement of principle, however. Indeed, that was just the beginning. Secretary Ickes himself corresponded with the head of the War Production Board to get a sense of the problem and to make clear the Interior Department's reluctance. It turned out that there was Sitka spruce in both Alaska and Canada, but it had been classified as unavailable. The Alaska timber was remote, and it was doubted that a sufficient amount could be made available in a short time. Canada had put an embargo on the export to the United States of high grade logs, including Sitka spruce, and Ickes suspected that they were holding back production.

With its strong commitment to save the Olympic timber if possible, the Interior Department not only articulated the burden of showing "critical necessity" but set out to find the facts for itself and to suggest alternatives. Park Service employees were dispatched to aircraft manufacturing plants to get a first-hand view of the problem, and to the Forest Service Products Laboratory to investigate alternatives to the use of wood. A proposal was developed for a program of special assistance to private companies logging nonparklands that were difficult to reach, including help in obtaining draft deferments for additional employees. With some inquiry and diplomacy, aircraft log production was increased in British Columbia, relieving the pressure on American forests. Ickes wrote to the War Production Board suggesting eight specific measures to relieve the Sitka spruce shortage without incursions on Olympic National Park.

By November of 1943, at a congressional hearing convened to consider the problem, the War Production Board testified that it no longer believed logging of the park was necessary. A change in aircraft lumber requirements had occurred, the Board stated, following discussions between them and the Interior Department. A decision had been made to construct certain planes of materials other than wood, and an increase in the supply of aluminum available for aircraft production had helped the situation. The War Production Board withdrew its request for park timber and by the end of 1943 the pressures on Olympic had virtually ceased.

The Olympic Park case reveals that claimed conflicts are often less intractable than they appear at first view; that by forcing alternatives explicitly into the open, and by pursuing the facts behind the claims, we can often resolve concrete cases without having to weigh competing values in the abstract. The tension between service of conventional recreation and the preservation of national parks will never wholly disappear, but the problem is not aided by posing questions such as How many acres of wilderness are enough? Like the question of how many books a library should have, or how many Brahms symphonies are sufficient, these are empty canards. If the public accedes to the preservationist position, the task will be to hold on to as much national parkland as other irresistible public demands will tolerate. In dealing with conflict, one must always have a starting point. If the goal is to encourage contemplative recreation in the parks, the way to do it is diligently to look for ways to meet other recreational demands more effectively at existing sites, and to scrutinize more carefully claims of need and demand. The strategy is to increase the burden of proof that there is no alternative except the use of parklands: that is the lesson of Olympic Park.

Beyond seeking alternatives, there is a serious question whether the pressures now being felt on public recreation lands are being unduly inflated. Ski resort proposals are among the most frequent and controversial sources of demand for intensive, urbanizing development of the public lands. While they arise much more frequently in the national forests than in the parks, the problem of assessing and responding to demand is aptly illustrated by the ski resort problem. One of the most hotly contested public recreation controversies of recent years arose out of a plan by Walt Disney Enterprises to build an alpine ski village in California's Mineral King Valley, on national forest land just at the southern rip of Sequoia National Park, northeast of Bakersfield. [5] While not a pristine wilderness, Mineral King basin is a beautiful and secluded mountain valley high in the central Sierra range. The valley floor, at an elevation of seventy-eight hundred feet, is dominated by striking peaks rising to more than twelve thousand feet above dramatic slopes. Though there was active mining in the valley at one time, no commercial activity has been carried on recently, and the area has largely reverted to a primitive condition. Good weather, ample snowfall, and fine scenery make it a superlative site for both summer and winter recreation.

The Mineral King proposal was bitterly opposed, and ultimately defeated, by citizen opposition, led by the Sierra Club. [6] The controversy is, on first consideration, extremely perplexing. Why should even the most ardent defender of public lands have objected to the use of the valley for downhill skiing?

Opposition to the Disney plan seemed to be based on some version of the extreme positions that high-quality natural ecosystems should never be degraded, even when they are particularly well suited for skiing; that wilderness hiking or cross-country skiing should be preferred to alpine skiing; or that the recreational preferences of some public constituencies should simply be given priority over others. The controversy was made particularly baffling by the fact that the principal opponent of the Disney plan, the Sierra Club, was the very organization that had first suggested the site. The problem arose this way.

Substantial growth in Southern California's population during the mid-1940s threatened to make inadequate the available facilities for downhill skiing within easy reach of Los Angeles. Ski enthusiasts urged the development of the nearby San Gorgonio area, which was within a national forest. But because the area had been classified primitive—a term the Forest Service used to reserve land for wilderness-type recreation—conservation groups, including the Sierra Club, rejected the San Gorgonio site.

Both the Forest Service, which traditionally played an entrepreneurial role in facilitating recreation development on national forest land, and the Sierra Club, which at that time routinely accompanied its opposition to any given site with efforts to find a more appropriate location, suggested the more remote Mineral King Valley. The Forest Service then sought bids from private ski developers, as was its practice, but no responses were forthcoming, principally because access to Mineral King required the improvement of a road into the valley. The cost of the new road was so great that it would have made commercial development economically impracticable.

For some years the idea of developing Mineral King lay dormant, but by the mid-1960s Disney Enterprises, through adroit political effort, had obtained agreement by the state of California, with aid from a federal government agency, to finance the access road. Disney then asked the Forest Service to renew its request for bids to develop the valley, which it did. Disney put forward a development proposal which was accepted. At this point, however, the Sierra Club decided to oppose construction of a ski resort at Mineral King. The issue became a celebrated national controversy; the Sierra Club sued to prevent the development, taking its case to the United States Supreme Court. [7]

Having originally suggested the Mineral King site, the Sierra Club could hardly avoid some embarrassment at the subsequent vigor with which it fought the Disney proposal. There are many explanations for this shift of position, all of them no doubt accurate as far as they go. It is true, for example, that environmental consciousness was sharply on the rise during the time the new Mineral King development was urged; that a new urgency was given to the preservation of remaining wilderness; that the Sierra Club had itself changed character, becoming more preservationist in its outlook; and that the Disney plan was considerably more ambitious than anyone (including the Forest Service) had anticipated.

The accuracy of these considerations does not, however, adequately explain the intensity of opposition, and the symbolic meaning, that the Mineral King battle took on. For example, the developer's promise that modification of the natural resources would be minimized to the fullest extent consistent with a ski facility did not reduce the opposition, [8] for it soon became clear that the opponents were not interested in a well-developed ski resort, but wanted no ski resort at all. Even a former Sierra Club president was unable to support, or find a justification, for such opposition. Breaking ranks with his colleagues, he said: ". . . [T]he American way of life . . . is pluralistic . . . [I] ha[ve] no use for the argument that there was something superior in the wilderness use and that the skiers should be considered a second-class use." [9]

His statement is perfectly appropriate, but like many participants on both sides of the battle, he failed to see through to the real issue. The controversy over the proposed Disney ski resort was not a disagreement about skiing and its place on the public lands, but about resorts, and their place on the public lands. The essential facts were not the physical impacts on the land, and the possible minimization of those impacts, but rather that Disney was proposing to invest thirty-five million dollars in a facility that would accommodate some eight thousand people a day in a valley of about three hundred acres; that within this area there were to be thirteen restaurants, seating 2,350, including a 150-seat coffee shop at the top of an eleven-thousand-foot mountain to which a high-capacity gondola was to lift visitors; that there was to be parking for 3,600 cars, twenty-two ski lifts, and, in addition, a full complement of swimming pools, a horse corral, a golf course, tennis courts, and a considerable number of shops.

The central issue at Mineral King was not simply service to skiers who needed such a site, but the development of a magnet facility calculated to draw to it as many people as possible. The Disney proposal was really a plan of the sort we encourage for central city malls, where the idea is to provide so wide a variety of attractive activities that people are strongly induced to come to the place, even though they may previously have shunned it. In the mall situation, our goal is to attract crowds to the city, to make the place a lure for activity because we want people in that location and are quite indifferent to what they do once they get there. But there is no public advantage as such in attracting crowds to places like Mineral King Valley. If we are to draw people to the valley, it should be because the place provides a special opportunity for a distinctive kind of recreation; or it is a needed site, because of its physical characteristics, for activities that cannot reasonably be accommodated elsewhere.

The Mineral King dispute nicely illuminates a difference between an entrepreneurial and a public policy perspective on dealing with questions of recreational demand. [10] Plainly the entrepreneur is doing more than filling a demand for ski opportunities. He is trying to fill the place where he does business. Mineral King presented the Disney version of a policy for public mountain lands, and, unfortunately, that version has insinuated itself into public policy as well.

The dynamics of resort development on the public lands was recently further illuminated by a proposal no develop a facility called Ski Yellowstone in Montana's Gallatin National Forest. [11] There, because the Montana Wilderness Association had filed a competing application to develop a nonprofit cross-country ski facility, and because neighboring ski resort owners, themselves having financial problems, submitted comments on the Ski Yellowstone proposal, the record on the application for a permit to use national forest land provides a rich store of information about such developments.

In commenting on the Ski Yellowstone proposal, the manager of another ski area in the region—Jackson Hole Ski Corporation—explained that his company had been in business for twelve years, and only in the last two of those had it earned a profit. His explanation was that "only in the past one or two years has [our company] reached the point of having enough restaurants, shops, cocktail lounges and other activities to satisfy the destination resort customer for one week." [12] The resort operator needs a critical mass of people no support the facilities that in turn support him. As the owner of the Sun Valley ski resort in Idaho explained: "[t]he village had to have a certain size. You had to have enough people to support five or six good restaurants, and more than one night spot." [13]

The scale and proliferation of ski resorts on the public lands reflects these business demands. The Grand Targhee Resort, not far from Yellowstone, noted that it could not operate profitably without a minimum of six hundred skiers per day; [14] and the Jackson Hole resort said that it was only when it began to fill overnight facilities for two thousand visitors, accommodation for twenty-six hundred skiers a day, six hotels, and twenty small businesses that it began to show a profit. [15] The Forest Service's own study of the ski industry observed that areas like Colorado's Telluride and Big Sky in Montana would be unlikely to get over the problems of low profitability and low utilization until they completed the development of a "full range of resort facilities." [16]

The Ski Yellowstone controversy makes clear that meeting demand, in the simplest sense of the words, is only a modest part of what underlies such applications. The entrepreneur is not merely meeting demand but stimulating it; or, if one prefers, he is tapping latent demand. The concept of latent demand, however, raises a number of questions for a public policy. How do we know whether there is more latent demand for this activity than for some other? How do we know what latent demand, and how much of it, we are tapping? To what extent are we attracting skiers, and to what extent are we attracting those who simply want a winter resort? [17]

From the point of view of public land policy, these are questions of considerable importance. If we adopt a policy of encouraging reflective recreation, a resort setting—where a primary goal is to entertain and occupy the visitor—is likely no conflict with the policy. If we are being asked to meet demands for certain services, then the question is how much the other policy must necessarily yield. If the need is only pressing for ski facilities, then such facilities (but without resort accoutrements) might well be provided without intruding on the capacity of the area to sustain reflective recreation. If there are people who want skiing, and some resort-type service along with it, we ought no ascertain just how much such demand there is—and then decide to what extent we want to provide such a mixture in any given area. A number of quite distinct questions need to be unbundled.

The entrepreneur, however, has an entirely different perspective. The less he unbundles these questions the better, for he wants as many people as possible to be attracted to his resort. Moreover, in one important respect, his goals are in direct conflict with the public policy proposed here. The entrepreneur has a positive goal of attracting a clientele interested in visiting shops, restaurants, bars, and nightclubs. [18] He makes his money from spenders and crowds, not from those who are seeking in a solitary way to find their own style. As one observer noted (talking about a similar problem in regard to snowmobiling):

The motel owners have tried to operate year-around. . . . [W]e got together to see if we couldn't organize something around snowmobiling. . . . In 1969, we would have one motel, a restaurant and two grocery stores open on a winter weekend—and that was all. Now we have about 20 motels, four service campgrounds. . . . When you talk about economic value, snowmobiling is unsurpassed. It's an expensive sport and spreads a lot of money around. The hikers bring their own food and stay in an Appalachian Mountain hut. Snowmobilers stay in local motels, eat at the restaurant, patronize the gas stations. [19]

These pressures are less evident in the national parks, where resort-type development has in principle been resisted and where concessioners are traditionally more tightly restrained. But the pressures are there nonetheless, and at times they rise dramatically to the surface, a phenomenon that has been intensified since large recreational corporations have begun to acquire the traditional small, local concessions in the parks. [20]

The most celebrated recent incident occurred shortly after the giant entertainment conglomerate, Music Corporation of America (MCA) acquired the concession in Yosemite National Park. Soon afterward, a proposed master plan was issued that incorporated much of the development plan suggested by MCA. [21] MCA's proposal included expansion of overnight facilities in the already crowded Yosemite Valley, replacement of rustic cabins with modern motel units, construction of an aerial tramway from the valley floor to Glacier Point for "viewing, eating and sundry sales," additional concessioner-operated backcountry camps, a proposal to stock park streams with nonnative trout, encouragement of winter recreational use and expansion of visitor facilities at Hodgdon Meadows, promotion of convention business in the park, and a number of other developmental proposals. [22] Only after an anguished public outcry, and a series of sharply critical congressional hearings on the MCA efforts (including the filming of a television series that included helicopter ferrying in the park) did the Park Service undertake a thorough reconsideration of its management plans. [23]

This was an extreme case, to be sure, and it arose at a time when the Park Service had its least distinguished and least professional leadership in the directorship, but the problem is a perennial one. [24] It crops up even in such minor matters as acquiescence in park souvenir shops selling baubles with no relation whatever to park resources, defended on the ground that such concessions are necessary to keep the shops profitable.

A policy of unbundling demand could considerably reshape use pressures on the public lands. To allow the development of ski facilities, but discourage accompanying resort facilities, would provide a service to those whose principal interest is skiing. It would permit the continued development of places like Utah's Alta in the Wasatch Mountains, a sparsely developed ski facility which has operated for many years with a modest lodge, a pleasant restaurant, and superlative alpine skiing. [25] It would divert those who are looking principally for a winter resort vacation to private lands or to places on the public lands that have less value for their undisturbed natural features. In would thus minimize the sort of conflicts that arose at Mineral King, while leaving such places available for modest scale downhill skiing developments if the demand for skiing cannot reasonably be met elsewhere.

To adopt such a policy would reduce some of the current conflicts over recreation lands, for a significant share of the present demand for such mixed experiences as resort/skiing developments is surely being generated by entrepreneurial initiatives in search of a way to fill vacation time. Such needs do not necessarily call for ecologically or scenically important public lands. Some years ago, Brian Harry, who was the chief naturalist at Yosemite National Park, remarked: "People used to come for the beauty and serenity. Those who come now don't mind the crowds; in fact they like them. . . . They come for the action." [26] If it's just the "action" that is being sought by many, and there is a plenitude of nonskiing "action" at many ski resorts, the demand can be diverted elsewhere.

The policy suggested here would no doubt produce a decline in the promotion of skiing by big industrial enterprises, such as the giant corporations that tried to develop Big Sky in Montana, and the airlines that have latched onto skiing resorts as a major air vacation destination. Much public land resort development would be exposed as economic pump priming for local communities, designed to generate road, airport, hotel, and restaurant development and accompanying employment. It would also be revealed that a number of ski resort proposals are little more than vacation-home developments in public land settings, now taking the form of the burgeoning condominiums to be seen adjacent to many ski facilities.

The accommodations and compromises proposed here, however, do not exhaust the problem. For if urbanized recreation continues to grow at present rates, a commitment to meet it could well overwhelm any effort at compromise, even with the best efforts to implement the Olympic Park approach and to separate different kinds of preferences. If the policy proposed here is to succeed, it will have also to moderate total demand for the kinds of conventional recreation that are most in conflict with it. The most serious practical problem in meeting current recreational demand is presented by those activities that are highly consumptive of resources: high-powered vehicles that require a great deal of acreage; noisy motors that create conflicts with other uses over a large area; hurried visits to a multitude of places, creating crowded conditions; uses that exhaust large quantities of energy and demand substantial development of facilities. This is not a description of all conventional recreation, of course, but of the types of such recreation that are most at the center of controversy. Such activities are characterized by intensiveness of resource use, or intensiveness of consumption, rather than by the intensiveness of experience that defines the preservationist ideal for use of the parks.

The significance of such intensive-use activities is not merely that they impose unprecedented pressures on a limited base of resources, but that the satisfactions they produce are directly correlated to the increasing exercise of power and of consumption. If a motorcycle is good, a more powerful and faster cycle is better. If a resort is good, a bigger resort with even more things to do is an improvement. Unlike some ordinary tourist activities (a picnic or a volleyball game) which are simply different from reflective recreation, power-based recreation is antithetical to it. The fly-fisherman, for example, simplifies his tools in order to reduce power over his experience. The consumer-recreationist does precisely the opposite.

If the preservationist does not succeed in reducing the taste for such activities, he will fundamentally have failed. His goal is to encourage the public increasingly to internalize its capacity to wring satisfaction out of experience—not merely for the brief moments spent in the parks, but in the attitudes carried away from them as well. In this respect recreation policy fundamentally reinforces the symbolic value that parks embody for the preservationist. As symbols of restraint, and human limits, their message is inevitably undermined unless they affect the attitudes we bring to the use of our leisure time.

Indeed, the issue is not simply reducing conflict between opportunities for different kinds of recreation. It is unlikely that we could fill the exploding demand for power-based recreation even if that were our first priority. Recreation that is dependent on ever-increasing growth and impact for its satisfactions is insatiable. The scarcity of resources we encounter in trying to meet such recreational demand is as much a psychological as a physical problem. No matter how much land we have, more will always be demanded because the object is itself more, more of whatever there is. This is what the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasser called "the psychology of the spoiled child" [27] who is insatiable because his object is not some particular thing, but a larger share. Increase is itself the object of his desire. [28] This, perhaps, is another way of asserting that the will to power is ultimately self-defeating, and that the preservationists moralistic stance may be a practical solution as well, even for those who can only see the problem as one of perpetually insufficient physical resources.

The distinction between recreation that draws on intensiveness of experience and that which draws on intensiveness of impact is analogous to that between serious literature and commercial mass entertainment. In the former case there is never a shortage of material; a reader cannot in a lifetime begin to exhaust the available resources precisely because the material's capacity to engage us turns on the intensity of experience it demands. In contrast, commercial entertainment is chronically short of materials. It uses up writers and stories at a furious rate, and it finds itself drawn to material of ever-increasing impact—more violence, more sex, more shocking situations—to maintain the viewer's attention. It is feeding an appetite that, based on external stimulation, grows more the more it is fed. In generates its own scarcity.

Our recently increased appreciation of the physical limits of the world to provide goods and services in boundless measure to everyone—our concern about crowded land, shortages of energy and minerals—give weight to Ortega's observation that so long as we continue to believe in the principle of increase as the measure of satisfaction of our desires, we will never be satisfied and will never avoid scarcity.

The parks themselves, however they are used, will never constitute more than a small fraction of all our recreational resources. And ideal forms of recreation will never account for more than a tiny fraction of anyone's leisure activity. But the underlying idea—substituting intensiveness of experience for intensiveness of consumption—can radiate out into a much wider area of both private and public recreation and can speak broadly to the problems of scarcity and conflict that we see everywhere. Power-based recreation will continue to present limitless demands until we come to terms with the implications of power as a recreational motif.


Mountains Without Handrails
©1980, The University of Michigan
Published by The University of Michigan Press

sax/chap5.htm — 22-Jan-2003