History means a lot to me and my fellow wannabe Historians. It is difficult to imagine the collective impact of the countless lives of those who have contributed to who we are today. So when I went to the historical cemetery near Camp Floyd in Fillmore and found beer cans and trash on the ground by the monument, I was a mite peeved.

I recently trekked through national parks and monuments, and everywhere I went, there was litter on the ground, graffiti on the markers, and people disregarding the pleas of the conservationists to please not destroy hundreds or thousands of years of geological and anthropological history. An example of this is the cryptobiotic soil that grows in deserts and keeps erosion from destroying the landscape in places like Arches National Park. Everywhere there are signs informing people that one foot print on this soil destroys at least two hundred years of growth, and to please not step on it. And every which way, there are footpaths right through it.

I don’t understand why some people get a thrill out of writing their name on a historical monument. Some people seem to genuinely feel much more special than they actually are, and apparently care less about posterity and more about their own abilities with a sharpie or can of spray paint. And so they deface and ruin things that belong to all of us.

Sadly, people all too often drop litter all over. I had to hike for miles off the beaten path — being very careful not to step on any cryptobiotic soil — to find a place without litter. I’m sure everyone who drops a candy wrapper is thinking, “One little thing won’t make a difference.” But it does. My husband and I picked up litter all over three national parks.

There’s a reason people are no longer allowed to explore the interior ruins at Hovenweep, or go off the trails at Arches –even though people constantly do it anyway. We are trying to preserve what we have so it can stay the way it is now.
Scientists and others noticed with alarm how quickly our treasured and ancient landscape is being destroyed by well-meaning tourists — and by tourists who just don’t care. Maybe they think that just one person can’t do that much damage. But as the African proverb says, “If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a closed room with a mosquito.”

The next time you visit a national monument, park, or historic site, please be respectful. You can go one step further and pick up some trash. If nothing else, try to remember that our tax dollars go to the preservation of these places so that they do not fall into disrepair, and so others like you can enjoy them for many years to come.
The conservation of these places preserves the condition of our state. We’re proud enough of them to have an arch on our car license plates, and unless the image of empty chip packets and some illegible graffiti seems like a more appealing license plate, please do your part to respect our national parks and monuments.