Are We Loving the Sawtooths to Death?

The Alpine Examiner

July 23, 2022

Naturalist Blog

Getting to the heart of what matters in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area

Are We Loving the Sawtooths to Death?

Most people have seen the headline “Loving Our Lands to Death”, talking about public lands and the fact that millions of people from all over the world visit every year.  

Crowds at Yosemite National Park,

If you’ve ever been to Redfish Lake (especially on a weekend like the Fourth of July!) you know that crowds surge to get to the beachfront of the crystal waters and incredible view of Grand Mogul and Heyburn peaks. I’ve talked to quite a few people that have been coming to Redfish for 20+ years, each one observing in shock how different it’s become. “When I first started coming here there was one campground, and the road coming in was dirt!” is the theme of all these interactions.  

Redfish Lake Beach – a typical weekend! 

It’s easy to see how Redfish became so popular. To have clear alpine lakes and breathtaking views just off the highway is a lucky find. I love that the locals are taking advantage of what’s in their backyard in visiting this incredible place.

However, you have to wonder how having so many people packed into these places is affecting the ecosystem. When I left the Iron Creek trailhead the other day, not only was the parking lot bursting full, but cars were lining the road and backed into random patches of meadow or grass.

Down the road from the Iron Creek trail parking lot 

With increasing crowds and cars in the forest, how long will it take for the lush vegetation to turn into the dusty road and parking lot it borders? for rivers and lakes to turn murky with pollution? for bird songs and elk sightings to disappear?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that so many people are able to enjoy such a special place like the Sawtooths. But is this a problem that depletes our resources and lessens our experience of natural places. 

One of my favorite mantras.

So, is there a solution? Kind of. The most straightforward – and unappealing – answer would be to not frequent our favorite places, such as the Sawtooths. Realistically, this could never happen, and in my opinion should never happen. We fall in love with these lands because they hold happy moments, memories, and healing for our souls. We need to have a connection and knowledge of these places if we want to truly protect them.

One of the most important practices to implement would be for each individual to think more about and create less of an impact on the environment, or in other words, leave no trace! Being conscious of our presence in the ecosystem. For example, if the Iron Creek parking lot is full, instead of parking on the vegetation on the roadside, try a different trail or come back another day!

As annoying as it can be to have so many regulations in our campsites and the wilderness, they are going to save the ecosystem and keep the land available and beautiful for future generations. Choosing to follow them will ensure the environment’s survival. Turning around how our country, as a whole and on a personal level, thinks about the wilderness and our use will help us keep these plants and animals around much longer.

In the High Uinta Wilderness, maintaining and repairing trails and boardwalks so they don’t degrade from overuse!

For example, when the Sawtooth food storage order was put in place, the hope was to see significantly fewer bears/bear encounters in campgrounds, which will result in fewer bears that have to be relocated or killed – a definite win! But in order for the new food storage order to work, people have to change their behavior.

By following the food storage regulation, we can avoid these kinds of situations! 

If we as a public can become more aware of how our visits impact natural places, we can make small changes, and ensure the preservation of pristine and wild qualities.

The Forest Service is short-staffed and the trend to decrease federal funding has now been the norm for decades, making it difficult to properly care for the land and facilities. This is where SIHA comes in, working in partnership with the Sawtooth National Recreation Area staff to fill some of the gaps created by lack of funding. However, it is critical each of us as individuals take action to protect the places we love!

“The only way forward, if we are going to improve the quality of the environment, is to get everybody involved.” – Richard Rogers

For more ideas on how to leave no trace, visit

Keslee is a Naturalist for SIHA. She goes to Utah State out of season (go Aggies!) and loves rock climbing, backpacking, and summitting peaks. She also loves to paint what she sees, and the Sawtooths make for some pretty good inspiration!