Several years ago, I traveled to the west coast a lot for work. I always took my skis or mountain bike with me and enjoyed some of the beautiful outdoor recreation places that the west has to offer. Some of this wilderness has been compromised by building and commercial developments. It is progress, I know, but it often encroaches on land that has been the home to wildlife for centuries. Take this scenario in Laguna Beach, California where I did a lot of mountain bike riding back in the day. Beautiful trails in the Laguna Wilderness Park with majestic vistas of the Pacific Ocean around every corner. I was surprised when I saw this sign at the trailhead but it made sense. With all the beautiful homes popping up in and around Laguna with incredible views, it made sense that the development had squeezed some privacy away from the natives- that being mountain lions. A rare sight to be sure but nonetheless something that you had to watch for and if possible ride on trails with other riders and hikers.
On another cycling trip to the Skyline Drive in Virginia, my friend Frank Habay and I rounded a corner on our road bikes and came to a screeching halt when we saw two black bears in the middle of the road. I looked at Frank, he looked at me, and the bears looked at us. I knew we would not out run or out ride them, but they rambled up over a wall and into the woods. After breathing a sigh of relief, we continued and the conversation between Frank and me was that they don’t bother humans anyhow. Easy to say after they left but at the moment, it was a little un-nerving.
My wife and my son were visiting friends in Tahoe and during one of our hikes out there with our friends, my wife became concerned about seeing a bear. They are in the neighborhoods and if you have birdseed in your backyard, they are coming for a visit. Our friends had many experiences with the visitors when their bird feeders were out. We did not see any on the hike and when we were safely in our car, Janet lamented that we had not even seen a bear. I told her and Jack not to speak too soon because there, right in front of us crossing Rt 50, was a big black bear heading to a residential neighborhood looking for his next meal. I commented to my son Jack that it looked like he just came out of Starbucks. Probably had a latte this morning on his way to the neighborhood. We laughed but the reality of the fact is that bears are becoming more used to people as a result of development. As Joni Mitchell used to say……….” they paved Paradise and put up a parking lot.” There are consequences.
I see a lot of wildlife in my local park and also in the mountains near us. My one friend likes to look for rattlesnakes in the mountains. I tend to look from a distance but the more people develop property and move towards the wilderness, the more they will see wildlife that has been displaced and looking for new homes.
I guess the point of all of this is that you can’t stop progress but it is nice to see that there are still places in the world where life goes noninterrupted in the wilderness. Locally, it is nice to see entities like the Allegheny Land Trust and the Hollow Oak Land Trust reserving land space for us to enjoy as well as provide a habitat for animals who are looking to thrive in a natural space. Sean Brady, Executive Director for Hollow Oak, told us on a recent hike that the stream that runs through the property has 23 species of fish that were endangered by development. Recently, a country club closed it’s doors locally and the thought was that it would turn into another housing development. Kudos to the residents of the area and their local municipality to turn the space into a park with trails and a natural setting for the neighbors to enjoy. It also provides a home to animals who would have been displaced again in favor of development. Again, I get progress, but there has to be some consideration for the generations to come.
So, the next time you are out and about in the mountains, on the trails or waterways, value any time that you can see wildlife in their own habitat. Nothing to be feared but instead, look at the sight with wonder. Take the time to get to natural places and take in the silence, the fresh air, and the beauty of our natural world. I am happy when they don’t pave Paradise and put up a parking lot. Thanks for reading.