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With Public Lands More Crowded Than Ever, We Need to Make Peace With Permits


You’re probably tired of talking about crowded trails. You’ve probably been part of conversations bemoaning busy parking lots, full-to-capacity campsites, eroded paths, and national park traffic jams. After all, it’s been going on for years

I remember sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic when I worked in Yellowstone in 2010, and when I hiked the Appalachian Trail eight years ago,I had to finagle tent space amongst the crowd of hikers in Georgia and North Carolina. 

Sure, there are things you can do to dodge the worst of it. You’ll avoid the crowds by hiking the AT southbound, visiting Yellowstone in the winter, or getting more than a few miles off the road in any national park. But during peak season, recreation sites have only gotten more crowded, to the point where the parking lot at Zion is packed by late morning during much of prime season, and conservationists are already fretting about massive traffic during California’s superbloom this year. 

But we’re not helpless when it comes to dealing with crowding outdoors. Each of these areas has a carrying capacity—the number of visitors the area can accommodate before the ecosystem and infrastructure can’t sustain the volume—and when we hit it,…

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