MINNEAPOLIS -- Images of Minnesota's idyllic public lands this summer are mixing with visions of crowded trails and parks, careless campers and boaters, and just plain bad behavior as people seek to do the one thing they've been encouraged to do since COVID-19 struck: Find escape in the outdoors.
Stories are ever-present from government agencies, field officers, outdoors advocates and others connected to the scene. Some examples:
-- Green trees cut to clear views at campsites -- or just cut upon.
-- Helmetless kids buzzing around roadways on the family's new all-terrain vehicle.
-- Jet Skiers jetting across lakes when it's not permitted.
-- Trash piled up at portages after paddlers move out.
Minnesota isn't alone. In recent weeks, reports abound of a crush of visitors -- many thought to be newcomers -- at hallowed places across the United States. Some national parks are seeing graffiti, feces and trash on trails, and damage to historic areas, like dirt bikers recently accused of tearing up part of Grand Teton National Park.
Ben Lawhon, education director at Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics in Boulder, Colo., said the numbers of new people recreating has amplified the issues. What might be one-time acts in other years have accumulated since the pandemic, he said, and the alarm is justified.
"So many of these people we see spending time outside either have never done so in the way they are doing now, so they're either uniformed, unskilled or engaging in careless behavior," he said.
It's a disturbing period for those who make their living in the outdoors, like Lawhon, and feel a calling to welcome people to experience, learn and just possibly champion the outdoors to future generations. Outdoors caretakers interviewed said educating people remains one of the key tools to curb the problem.