On Being a Visitor on a Soapbox

I’ve been doing a bit of thinking, stemming from starting a class about conservation and public land history plus having the chance to be on the other side of the Visitor Center desk–in other words, the one with all the questions.

I don’t like the term ‘visitor,’ as in, “You are a visitor to Yosemite National Park,” or “Yosemite National Park has 4 million visitors a year.”

On the one side, using the word ‘visitor’ conveys the brevity that most people experience inside their national parks. At most, a day, maybe a week are spent inside the boundaries. In Yosemite’s case, ‘visitor’ could imply that entering the valley is traversing on land that someone else occupied, a little paradise occupied by a tribe whose home was converted into parkland through an act of force.

While ‘visitor’ might serve the purpose of reminding us that our natural cathedrals were once places many people before us called home, the conditions of present-day conservation ethics might warrant a different term for those that visit THEIR public lands. That’s right, YOU own Yosemite National Park [as much as a monolithic chunk of granite and a valley carved by glaciers can be “owned”]. YOU, with the rest of the nation’s citizens, are responsible for the upkeep, preservation, and integrity of all 401 units of the National Park Service, whether or not you’ve been to them [if that seems like a lot, just think about all the land that’s designated by the BLM, Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, etc. That’s all YOUR land, as well]. This ownership we have, you see, isn’t conveyed well in the term ‘visitor’. ‘Visitor’ does not say “I’m responsible for keeping this park free of trash,” or “I am tasked with letting others know that feeding the wildlife is detrimental to their health,” or “It’s my responsibility to preserve everything in this park for the people that arrive tomorrow as well as future generations.” All of these tasks can happen in tangible or intangible ways, but they are the duty of every citizen of the United States.

So with that daunting responsibility staring you in the face, what term would YOU use in place of ‘visitor’?
Half Dome

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One thought on “On Being a Visitor on a Soapbox

  1. Interesting post, Shaina!

    The word that comes to me (at 6am) is “shareholder”. First, it suggests a fiscal investment, which is true insofar as park upkeep is paid for through people’s taxes. The term is viscerally grabbing, since we all know that “money talks”. Our investments equal our security — let’s keep our parks secure!
    Second, the word “shareholder” breaks down into two non-financial, socially nice words, “share” and “hold”. We don’t grasp our national treasures in greedy fists but cup them in our hands and uphold them carefully like fragile treasures, and we share them with our community (humankind) and our descendants.

    I dunno, how’s that? The second, congregational-type sense of the word may suffice to include international visitors (like me, f’rinstance) in its scope. The bears don’t know and don’t care which side of the border they live on, I still promise not to feed them.

    Nice to see you posting again!

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