Guardian: How to Visit America’s National Parks Without the Congestion

Traffic congestion has become part of the experience of visiting popular national parks in the US. Now, more parks are beefing up their public transport options.

The Guardianisland-explorer-jordan-pond-house-1-9-3-09

If you’ve ever visited an iconic national park like Yellowstone, Yosemite or Glacier, your first glimpses of arresting, postcard-perfect vistas were probably framed by a car window. That’s how I first glimpsed Yosemite’s Half Dome. After driving through the tunnels on Big Oak Flat Road, the road curved and the valley came into view. Angels sang. I was so overwhelmed by that monolith’s grandeur and beauty that I had to pull over onto the shoulder and have a good cry.

Years later, I stuffed my backpack with supplies and headed out my front door, Yosemite bound once again. I walked 10 minutes to the nearest San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (Bart) station, which I rode east, to the Richmond station, and transferred to Amtrak. I used the train’s free Wi-Fi to get some work done during the scenic two-hour and 40-minute ride to Merced, California, where I waited a half hour for a Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System (Yarts) bus up to Yosemite, another two-hour trip.

In total, my fares were double what I’d have paid in gas, but bus riders are exempt from the park’s entrance fee ($20 then, $30 now). The trip took more than an hour longer than driving would have, though slogging through Bay Area traffic could have evened that scale. One less car in the crowded, summer-packed Yosemite Valley that day made an imperceptible difference to the park’s clogged roads and parking lots. But once I was inside the park, the free park shuttles and my own two feet took me everywhere I wanted to go. I experienced zero road rage and could have wept over Half Dome to my heart’s content without worrying about swerving off the road.

Read the full story here.

 

 

Outside: The Race to Build the World’s First Totally Green High-Performance Gear

Gear and apparel manufacturers are big chemical users. A new overhaul of the Toxic Substances Control Act has them scrambling to innovate—minus the toxins.

Outside

smoky-tent-toxic-woods_hYou might have missed it, but last month President Obama signed into law a bill that many consider the most significant environmental legislation to pass Congress in 25 years. The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act overhauls the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), a 40-year-old statute that, in theory, empowered the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate the use of toxic chemicals in the stuff we buy. In practice, it failed miserably.

If you ask environmental and public health advocates what was wrong with TSCA, they’re likely to respond with another question: what wasn’t? The Environmental Defense Fund posted a good run-down here, but the highlights are that TSCA gave the EPA very limited powers to test chemicals for toxicity and that even when the science showed clear hazards—i.e., “this stuff causes cancer”—the agency often failed to get a ban to stick because a federal court might side with industry groups that complained the ban would hurt their business. That’s what happened when the EPA tried to ban asbestos.

The reforms allow the EPA to evaluate the environmental and health risks that chemicals pose based only on the best available science, without having to also show a cost-benefit analysis of a proposed ban. The new law also includes an important change that can impact outdoor gear and apparel manufacturers, because while the old TSCA allowed the EPA to regulate the sale and use of discrete chemicals, it did not require it to regulate the products in which those chemicals are used. Now, the EPA is tasked to do so, in order to limit consumers’ exposure to hazardous chemicals through the use of those products—and this is important for all manufacturers of non-consumables (products other than food and drugs, over which the FDA has purview). Gear and apparel manufacturers are actually big users of chemicals, so these new regs may impact what chemicals go into their products.

Read the full story here.

Outside: Patagonia’s New Study Finds Fleece Jackets Are a Serious Pollutant

The brand commissioned a study to find out how many synthetic microfibers—the tiny bits of plastic that marine scientists say could be jeopardizing our oceans—are shed from its jackets in the wash. The results aren’t pretty.

Outside

It all started on a beach in southwestern England in the early 2000s. Richard Thompson, then a senior lecturer at Plymouth University (where he now serves as professor of marine biology), was leading a team of graduate students researching microplastics in marine environments. Examining samples of sandy sediment, they expected to find degraded bits of marine plastic from decades-old flotsam or plastic beads that were becoming widely used in cleaners. To their surprise, most of the plastic fragments were fibrous, which meant they likely came from clothing, rope, or some types of packaging.washing-machine-patagonia-clothes_h

Then, in 2011, Mark Browne, one of Thompson’s former graduate students, published a study in which he examined sediment sampled from 15 beaches around the world. He found high concentrations of polyester and acrylic fibers in samples taken near wastewater treatment plants. He then ran a polyester fleece jacket through the wash and filtered 1,900 fibers from the wastewater—fibers that otherwise would have gone to the local wastewater treatment plant. Browne started reaching out to apparel makers to see if they’d help fund research to study this issue more deeply—eventually, he hoped, finding tweaks to fabric design or apparel construction that would stop the microfibers from entering wastewater. He received one offer of help—from women’s clothing brand Eileen Fisher—but Patagonia, Columbia, and other big brands declined, saying they didn’t know if the fibers were anything they needed to worry about.

Fast-forward four more years, and the fibers finally got everyone’s attention. The science was piling on, showing that wastewater treatment plants couldn’t filter out all synthetic fibers, and that toxins such as DDT and PCBs can bind to them as they make their way into watersheds. It also showed that small aquatic species ingest the fibers, and that fish and bivalves sold for human consumption also contain microfibers. Experiments have shown that microplastics can lead to poor health outcomes in some species, and research is underway to find out how the plastics affect humans.

Jill Dumain, director of environmental strategy at Patagonia, was one of the people paying attention to all the news. In early 2015, she and the company’s leadership decided to commission a study to find out if and how Patagonia’s iconic and well-loved fleeces and some other synthetic products were contributing to the problem. The results recently came in, and they’re not good.

Read full story here.

Pacific Standard: The Pleasures — and Ecological Benefits — of River Snorkeling

In praise of river snorkeling, a pastime for fish obsessives that also reminds riparian activists what they’re protecting.

Pacific Standard

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Photo: Russ Ricketts

I’m like the reverse of a fish out of water — a floundering human in water, I think to myself and let out a nervous chuckle. This breaks the seal my mouth has formed around the snorkel’s mouthpiece, and as the frigid Cascadian water of Icicle Creek hits the back of my throat I start floundering more, coughing and thrashing around like a hooked fish.

Jesus, get a grip, continues my inner dialog. Show them you can handle yourself.

Them refers to Matt Collins and Russ Ricketts, my guides for my first foray into river snorkeling. And show them you can handle yourself is something I recall thinking often, back when I used to live in these wonderful central Washington mountains, where the three of us worked at a ski area. It felt important to prove myself: Up on the hill, after a storm had dumped unfathomable amounts of snow, I would struggle to keep the nose of my snowboard floating above the fray, always feeling like the slowest, weakest member of the crew. Usually, I was.

Read the full story here.

Outside: Terry Tempest Williams’s Dark Love Letter to the National Parks

The acclaimed nature writer’s portraits of 12 parks go beyond perfect postcard tributes, and the resulting book couldn’t have come at a better time.

Outside

I had expected Terry Tempest Williams’ latest book, The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks (MacMillan), would be a string of tributes to the sacred spaces within our 100-year-old park system. And that’s what Williams says she expected to write. But by the time I’ve reached Big Bend—the midpoint in the dozen parks that comprise a dozen chapters—it’s clear that this book isn’t about our romanticized images of the parks.hour-of-land-big-bend_h

The Hour of Land is about National Parks as battlegrounds. What it means to hold land in trust, who defines its best uses, the tangibility of park boundaries, and whether and how we will reconcile our history with our present and future, are all tested on these lands.

Williams, 60, is an acclaimed nature writer recognized for her lyrical, conservation-minded prose. And there are plenty of passages in which Williams so deftly conveys the magic of a place that you will ache to be there and experience it directly. But she is also an increasingly outspoken activist, and spends most of her words exploring conflicts in and around our parks, as well as some of her internal battles. Even on the system’s 100th birthday, this approach feels more fitting than another book exalting their beauty.

Fossil fuel development undergirds Williams’ family, and it is a thread that emerges when she confronts the resources the landscape holds. In the book, Williams visits Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota with her father, who spent his career laying natural gas pipeline across the West. They tour the park with its then superintendent, Valerie Naylor (she retired in 2014), who describes her Sisyphean efforts to keep fracking pads and attendant gas flares from marring the park’s viewshed.

Williams’ dad is curious about, but then dismayed by, the Bakken shale oil development that envelops the park, which has been criticized for dangerous working conditions. “There’s no dignity here,” he laments, looking on as men sleep in truck cabs and storage units. His own son, Williams’ brother, had done so the previous winter. Williams herself recently purchased a 10-year lease on hundreds of acres of land owned by the Bureau of Land Management in her native Utah. While the parcels, bordering parkland, are earmarked for oil and gas development, she made the purchase with an eye toward protecting them from exploitation.

Read the full story here.

‘Tools for Grassroots Activism’ Is Patagonia’s Guide to Saving the World

Yvon Chouinard thinks environmental activists could learn a thing or two from businesspeople, even if—as he puts it—businesspeople are sleazeballs.

Outside

Outdoor recreation can be a gateway drug to environmental activism. It certainly was for Patagonia founder and co-owner Yvon Chouinard, as he writes in the introduction to Tools for Grassroots Activism, a book the adventure clothier published in February. In the early 1970s, a threat to Chouinard’s beloved Ventura County surf break mobilized him to join with others and take a stand against a development project. This, he writes, was when he “came to realize the power of an individual to effect major change.”patagonia-tools-for-grassroots-activists_h

Sure, Chouinard found success in Ventura—the development plan was defeated (the company he’d headquartered in Ventura not long before did pretty well for itself, too). But the reality is that for every victory, environmentalists lose big battles. This chagrins Chouinard, who believes many environmental organizations falter because they do not recognize what they are: a business selling a product. Just like he is. (Even though, he readily admits, many businesspeople are sleazeballs.) Instead of fleece jackets and aspirational lifestyles, environmental non-government organizations (NGOs) sell a vision of a wrong being righted, of clean air and water, of ecosystems in balance. Sure, they are profoundly different types of products, but selling them requires common tools: planning, strategy, marketing, organizing, technology, and money.

Framed that way, it doesn’t seem so outlandish that a massive clothing company would be qualified to write a guidebook for saving the environment. Still, I wanted to learn whether this how-to book could meet its lofty goal.

Read the full story here.

Skateboarding for Change (and Gender Equality) in South Africa

After six months of temporary digs, Skateistan’s growing South Africa chapter has broken ground on a permanent home and skatepark.

Vice Sports

David Webster Park, in Johannesburg’s Troyeville neighborhood, is named after a local anti-Apartheid activist who was assassinated by the Apartheid police in 1989. The area’s quality of life has only deteriorated in the decades since. Johannesburg has one of the world’s worst—and worsening—murder rates, and in Troyeville public drinking is common, car tires are often stolen, and rumors of muggings circulate almost nightly.

Yet as Kelly Murray, a Johannesburg native and one of the best professional female skaters on the continent, pulled up to the park, a throng of young girls crowded around the car.untitled-article-1449865046

“Are you going to drop in today?” Murray asked one of the kids, a tall skinny girl with cornrows braided into two pigtails, who demurely ignores the question. She’s the class ripper, having first dropped in at the end of September.

Murray is a sports coordinator for Skateistan, an organization founded in 2007 to provide a sanctuary to kids in war-torn Kabul through skating and classroom lessons. It has since expanded to Afghanistan’s fourth largest city, Mazar-e-Sharif, as well as to two cities in Cambodia. This past June, Johannesburg became the program’s fifth city. Skateistan South Africa broke ground at a permanent home in Joburg’s up-and-coming Maboneng Precinct last month. The facility will include a skatepark and classrooms constructed from shipping containers; it’s scheduled to open next April or May.

Read the full story here.

The Long Fight for Women’s Parity in Action Sports

Even outside mainstream sports, sexism and unequal access have long thrown up hurdles for female athletes. Deconstructing those hurdles is an endurance sport of its own.

Vice Sports

When Blue Crush hit theaters in 2002, critics generally considered the film weak on plot and strong on surfing sequences. The latter was mostly due to the casting of pro surfers Keala Kennelly and Kate Skarratt, including their stomping the famous Hawaiian break Pipeline in one of the film’s climactic scenes. Blue Crush premiered as the number of women surfers was growing, and the scene likely provided stoke for countless girls to try the sport. It also showed that women surfers can be as big a draw for their athletic performance as men.the-long-fight-for-womens-parity-in-action-sports-1446142502

But here’s the rub: Kennelly and Skarratt earned far more filming their cameos in Blue Crush than they did from winning major events as professional athletes. For years, the same unfortunate calculus has been true for women competing in action sports from cycling to skateboarding to snowboarding: You can be among a sport’s most decorated athletes, but your winnings may not pay the rent. For these women, achieving parity with the salaries, sponsorship endorsements, and competition prize money that their male counterparts enjoy has been slow to come.

When Kennelly began competing at an elite level in 1998, on the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) championship tour, a mid-pack female surfer might earn around $30,000 in winnings in the course of a year, around half of what her male counterpart might make, even though the men’s field was more that twice as large (36 men versus 15 women). Because surfing venues span the globe and athletes generally cover their own travel costs, earning a decent salary as a female athlete was nearly impossible without an endorsement deal or side job.

Prize money for both genders did improve incrementally during the years Kennelly was on the tour (she stopped competing in 2006) but the women’s total purse per contest remained roughly a quarter of the men’s. Even so, women kept entering the sport. In 2002, the ASP added two more seats to the women’s tour, a 12 percent growth, and overall, more women started surfing recreationally in the early 2000s.

Read the full story here.

The Invisible Nightmare in Your Fleece

Washing a single polyester jacket can send 1,900 tiny synthetic micro-fibers into waterways, where they can soak up toxins and get eaten by fish. So what is the outdoor industry doing about it?

Outside Magazine
August 2015

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Illustration by Laszlo Kubinyi

Gregg Treinish is dismayed about what is coming out of his washing machine.

“What I’m seeing is shocking. Every couple of weeks, I clean out the filter and put the contents in a 32-ounce Ball jar,” says the founder of Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation (ASC), a nonprofit that trains outdoor enthusiasts to collect data for environmental researchers. After roughly two months, Treinish says, “the bottle is more than half-full of the crap that would have otherwise been shed right into the waterway.”

That crap is thousands of synthetic fibers shed from Treinish’s clothing during wash cycles (he captures them in an aftermarket filter), and the waterway is Montana’s Gallatin River. Treinish, whose organization receives financial support from a number of outdoor-gear companies, recently launched a campaign to track the flow of those fibers into fresh water. He plans to share that data with his funders.

What’s so bad about a few plastic threads? In 2011, British ecologist Mark Anthony Browne published a study describing the discovery of micron-scale synthetic fibers, mostly polyester and acrylic, in sediments along beaches the world over, with the highest concentrations appearing near wastewater-disposal sites. That strongly suggested that the micro-fibers came from apparel, a hunch he checked by filtering 1,900 fibers found in the waste-water from washing a single fleece jacket. A similar study at VU University Amsterdam in 2012 estimated that laundry wastewater is sending around two billion synthetic microfibers per second into Europe’s waters.

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The Dangers of Kickstarter

Kickstarter has become the go-to funding source for serious expeditions and boondoggles alike. And that has some benefactors wanting their cash back.

Outside Magazine, February 2013

Last May, Andrew Badenoch, a thirtysomething former Internet marketer in Oregon, set off on a 7,000-mile solo expedition from Bellingham, Washington, with a jumbo-tired fat bike and a pack raft. His goal was to travel to the Arctic Sea and back under his own power, all the while making a documentary about the trip. Backing him were 212 individuals who anted up a combined $10,437 via the crowdfunding site Kickstarter. PBS even loaned Badenoch camera equipment and agreed to run his footage as an online series.

kickstarter-andrew-badenoch_feBy late summer, though, the expedition had fallen apart, and Badenoch, who had never before embarked on a human-powered expedition of this scale, had quietly returned to Oregon after bailing on the trip in Pink Mountain, British Columbia. He later blamed “14 weeks of delays” and told supporters the “weather window had closed.” Throughout the summer, a handful of backers had asked him via Twitter for updates on his status and location. Except for a handful of tweets, these largely went unanswered. Badenoch now says that he could have been better at communicating his plans. But he also maintains that “it was never my intent to explain everything as I went. That’s not part of the documentary.” As for the money, Badenoch has yet to offer a breakdown of his expenses, because, he says, he plans to complete the trip this spring and produce his documentary. “I have no comment on accounting specifics while the project remains in progress,” he wrote in an email last fall. “When adding layers of accounting, reporting day-to-day activities, and scrutinizing every word and detail during the creative process, the creative process is killed.”

To some of his backers, this all sounds pretty thin. “He should have told people if things had not gone according to plan,” says Hendrik Morkel, 31, a Finnish wilderness guide and author who donated $25 to Badenoch and has used Kickstarter to produce his own online series about ultralight gear. “Sometimes that’s how expeditions go.”

Explorers have been soliciting financial backing since Columbus first begged boats off of Queen Isabella. Companies like Eddie Bauer, the North Face, and Rolex have been the primary backers since the mid-20th century, but social media have provided an additional option: the public. With Kickstarter, which launched in 2009, adventurers can create a pitch with an embedded video, spread the word on Facebook, and watch the money roll (or, more often, trickle) in. The company has provided a funding platform for about 75 expeditions, though it’s important to note that the backers didn’t pay for those trips per se. When funders drop cash on an expedition, they’re funding what Kickstarter calls the “creative work” that will result—usually a film or book—and the best ideas with the most enthusiasm behind them usually win. But crowdfunding isn’t venture capitalism. Apart from rewards like getting your name in a documentary’s credits or, say, receiving artifacts collected during an expedition, there is no return on investment. Pitchmen have little responsibility to their funders, which opens the door for overpromising—or worse.

Read full story here.