Sunday, March 16, 2008

Camping in the 'Gunks

Sigh, well, it looks like the 'Gunks are slowly moving toward being that much more expensive to climb at. According to the AMC's climbing newsletter The Crux, the long anticipated, if not altogether desired, campground near the Multi Use Area camping land is moving forward to being developed, and this could mean the end of not only the MUA, but the accessibly favorable Trapps Camp, affectionately known as "Camp Slime."

Disclosure: these are rumors. Despite them being in the AMC's newsletter, this campground has been delayed for several years. Hopefully, the trend continues (OK, that wasn't objective, but the first sentence was).

There are ups and downs to this. For one, the new campground would have facilities (and by "facilities" I mean running water and actual campsites), which is something that the MUA and Slime does not have (well, Slime does have actual sites, but don't think it is uncommon to be able to wrap your arms around the beautiful blond the next site over in a dead sleep - they really aren't very private sites). I'll fully admit that I'm a bit of a shower / decent-place-to-take-a-crap crank, so a new, real campground would be welcome in that regard. But I have two issues that this new campground would hinder in my willingness to climb at the Mohonk Preserve: 1) accessibility and; 2) cost.

Accessibility can mean many different things to different people. For some it means literally being able to get from Point A to Point B. For some it means getting there easily, or safely, or conveniently. For others still it can mean lessening the impact of the ecosystem of a particular area without hindering a person's ability to use the area at the same time. Of course, by taking into consideration of all of these issues, a smart planner organizes a park by providing specific entry and exit points, easy-to-use maneuverability gateways (such as paths or roads), and facilities that help to keep the place clean and safe. The 'Gunks have a pretty good record for all of this. The parking lots and entry ways are easy to use and, for the most part, convenient. The paths and roads are also well kept and easy to navigate. But here is the kicker for me: I don't stay at the MUA because one must drive from that site to the parking lot each day. I know that sounds a little whiny, but driving four hours from Boston and back again is annoying enough. When I go to the 'Gunks, I like to park my car for the weekend and not move it until I'm ready to head home. That's why Camp Slime is so attractive. One can park the car in the main lot and leave it there all weekend. Camp Slime itself is right across the street from the Trapps, and thus it is easy to get up, walk across the bridge and climb for the day. No fighting traffic. No Searching for parking. No adding extra pollution.

Granted, I know a lot of people who camp in the main parking lot itself. They just sleep in their cars (well, the comfy folks sleep in vans, etc), and I'm not sure if that is going to be disallowed going forward. My guess is that people are allowed to do this because it is the same lot that the people camping at Slime use, and it is difficult to tell if people are really staying at Slime or in their cars (OK, I know there is a tracking system in place where campsites are marked with vehicle plate numbers, but still, you can see why this wouldn't be 100% easy to police). I would think that when Slime closes that parking overnight in the lot would be disallowed. I would think this for two reasons: 1) because there is no need to keep it open and, thus, have a higher insurance liability and; 2) if it's the only free place to stay...

This brings me to my second concern: cost. Look, I know that there are two contrasting issues when it comes to parks and public lands (and let's be clear, because the Mohonk Preserve is a non-profit, it is by default a public land that is operated by what some would call a private company. My basis for this argument is that non-profits are public because they don't pay taxes, and they don't pay taxes because they are supposed to provide a public benefit. It's as if the government is funding them by the company not paying the government - reverse funding, if you will allow the description). One argument is that public lands should be accessible to all (i.e. - free). This is somewhat the basis for the National Park System. I say somewhat because of the second contrasting issue, which is that it is incredibly difficult to provide free access to everyone without maintaining the land and / or preserving it so that it endures for future generations. That's why the National Park Service charges in a lot of parks (my hometown of Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park is no exception - but hey, I'm a local and I know the back way, he he). Not only does the revenue allow for due maintenance, but it also, ahem, restricts access and, thus, ahem again, preserves nature (always comes back to capitalist economics, doesn't it?). So by charging, one preserves the land but, unfortunately also reduces access.

I'm not sure how many years the Mohonk Preserve has been charging for access, but it is understandable considering the risks involved with maintaining a climbing area (there are other activities there, but climbing, I believe, is the main activity). It is also understandable considering the fact that, as a non-profit, the Preserve's funding from the government is literally the ability to not have to pay taxes (I'm not sure if they receive grants or other direct funding otherwise). But let's not be foolish here. One must pay $15 per day to climb at the 'Gunks. That's $15 more than Rumney, Cathedral and Whitehorse, Cannon, Acadia, the 'Dacks, or any other climbing area in New England for that matter. Sure, there may be parking fees in some areas (like Rumney, but even that's only $3 per day, and that's only if one actually drives there), but it's all semantics at these places. At the 'Gunks, one must pay as if one was going to the gym. That's what makes Camp Slime and the MUA so attractive. It's only $30 per weekend to climb; sleeping doesn't cost a thing.

Again, I don't disagree with the idea of charging. It keeps the activity population from getting out of hand and maintains the area. These are benefits I quite enjoy and would be disappointed if they went away. However, driving to and back from the 'Gunks costs about $60 in gas from Boston, $30 to climb two days on a weekend (I think the annual pass is $80) and now they're taking away free camping? Add on another $20 and what do you get? Well, for me, you get the costs of living outstripping pay raises. OK, so maybe I need to get a new job, but that's not the point! If this new campground opens up next year (2009) and Slime and the MUA close down, then my time at the 'Gunks may dwindle from past years. If it's just not worth it, then it's just not worth it to spend $100 on a climbing weekend. If I'm going to spend money, I might as well go to New River Gorge, or T-Wall, or someplace where I feel as if I'm spending money on a trip, and not just a weekend jaunt. I admit, I'm a Pisces and our lot tend to enjoy luxury (luxury defined not as wealth or service, but as thorough enjoyment of the value of the product instead) I can clearly see myself spending a lot more time elsewhere in 2009. The 'Gunks are but one destination in the northeast, albeit a great destination, but they aren't cheap. But then again, maybe everyone else is thinking of the same thing I am right now, and maybe I'll end up spending $100 just to get away from everyone else. After all, it is all about exclusivity nowadays, and I'm an introvert who hates crowds. My quirks do tend to cost me money. Sigh. Oh well, climb on.

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