Concern over the environment, the health of wild animals, and the planet is a major theme in today’s schools and the media. A personal experience of nature is widely recommended as a way to “educate” people, especially children, about mother earth. Educational institutions teach us that restrictions imposed by the state and amenities provided through tax dollars can improve our lives by increasing our experience of nature. We can live a simpler more natural existence if only we enact the right legislation. The media and the schools get it wrong. Features such as natural parks should be privately owned for when they are public, they tend to fall victim to the tragedy of the commons.

A recent article, “Rocky Mountain National Park Wants To Reduce Overcrowding, Noise”, posted on CBS Denver discusses statements made by Rick Fedorchak and Kyle Patterson, speaking on behalf of the Park Service, discusses crowding in the park. Especially at peak periods including spring flowers, fall colors, the elk rutting season, and weekends with beautiful weather, a visitor will not experience a natural environment by any stretch of the imagination. Rather, he will find crowd noise, pushing and shoving to get a better view, and lectures given by park rangers. There will be traffic jams and lines waiting at popular attractions. Do not these sound like big city problems? Trails and view areas will be lined with people all moving in different directions and different speeds. Even in winter, snowshoe hikers on the Echo Lake Trail will dominate the scenery. Fluffy powder will not be found unless the hiker gets out immediately after a storm.

Millions of annual visitors damage the park and put stress on both the flora and fauna. People stray from the trails onto delicate article tundra. Wildlife is upset by all of the crowds. Signs throughout the park tell people not to feed junk food to the animals. Obviously, that indicates that people do. Park employees have the typical government remedies: restrictions. Some roads are open only to busses (which according to the article cause other problems) while trails are periodically closed. They make recommendations to visit during off peak hours on week days though almost everyone wishes to visit during weekends when they have time off work. They even take the time to deny that they are considering a one in, one out rule, which of course means they are considering it.

Those are the traditional and endemic problems and “solutions” of a government reservation open to the public. In contrast, an experience of the wilderness provides an inspiration for Libertarian thinking. That great freedom philosopher, H. D. Thoreau, drew much of his inspiration from living in the wilderness:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

That is not the kind of experience one can glean while immersed in a crowd of angry tourists vying for position to click a selfie in the company of a bull moose. There is an alternative.

How would a Libertarian approach the Walden experience? It would most assuredly not be with rules and restrictions. In the first place, the wilderness would not be appropriated through violence. Rather than petitioning the state to confiscate a plot from previous owners, a settler would first take note of an especially beautiful site and take steps to own it. If previously occupied, he would make an offer to buy it. If unowned, he would homestead it. Block and Edelstein have suggested a method whereby an unsullied parcel of land could be legitimately set aside to preserve the stunning asset.   However, the methods used are rather artificial and ultimately fail to provide Thoreau’s meditative learning because no one would be allowed to enter.

Rather, the pioneer would use the land for exactly what is intended: personal communion with nature. He might even wish to profit by sharing the nature preserve. But unlike the state, he would take the necessary steps to actually create a natural park open to the public while remaining unsullied. He would do that not with Block and Edelstein ploy, but with constant maintenance. He could finance his venture by charging fees. Now it might be objected that the National Park charges fees; but being politically motivated, those fees are inadequate for the job.

No, the fees must be designed to avoid the problems with crowding and damage. They must be sufficient to make the park self-sustaining, even if that means that not everyone can afford to visit. They must provide the funds to reverse the damage, to provide recovery time if necessary for the fauna to live natural lives, to protect arctic tundra and other irreplaceable flora. Furthermore, the fees need to address the impact of respective individual visitors. If the visitor is going to drive, then the price must be higher. If it is a time when many people want to visit, then the fee must adjust upward to the extent necessary to reduce the demand to a level compatible to the wilderness experience. That level of visitors might be quite low, perhaps on the order of one person or family per 10 square miles or less. Popular attractions within the park would carry a fee in addition to the overall fee to reduce pressure and damage to the most pristine assets.

Hard work on the part of the owner would provide him with an income in exchange for providing to the public a real wilderness for those who wished to taste Life in the Woods, and all of this without a one in, one out rule.