The Un-Wilding of a Green Destination

The Un-Wilding of a Green Destination

Sustainable tourism….Eco-Tourism…Green Destinations. All buzz-words to attract Earth-loving, conscious travelers wanting to invest their vacation dollars into a place that honors sustainability and earth-friendly practices.

All underbrush must go….old growth native plants are being completely cleared

It’s the latest goo-goo-ga-ga for all the tourism officials along the Alabama Gulf Coast. “We’re going to be one of only a few GREEN destinations in the world.”

Not just near buildings….ALL OVER THE PARK…clearing native plants

Meanwhile Gulf State Park has ‘sold’ itself to Hilton Hotels –all part of this grand scheme–and the image of un-manicured, un-sightly flora growing amok (gasp) has caused a systematic effort to remove all underbrush from buffer zones. What does that mean? They are removing old growth palmettos and other underbrush that serves as wildlife habitat and erosion control when hurricanes push the Gulf of Mexico into the heart of the park. (Oh…but wait…there’s no such thing as hurricanes).

The latest assault….all of the undergrowth in the live oak area…across from the resort….was being removed when I took this photo

My usual passive blogs about love and peace and connecting with your inner wild has yielded to the important reminder that a state park isn’t supposed to be Hilton manicured….is it? Sure, around the resort area…I’ve got no complaints about that really. But along trails? Along the lake? And you are bragging that you are a GREEN destination?

All undergrowth was cleared between the trail and road….why?

The irony that to create this mega-green destination you are destroying the vegetation that makes it truly green. I suspect the only true green-tourism officials want is the kind that fills their bank accounts.

All along the trail, beautiful palmettos and shrubs cleared…prime wildlife buffer zones

Kind citizens of Alabama, lovers of this beautiful state park…are you aware that¬†your park has been sold? That the wildlife we love and cherish is being pushed back yet again….and again…and again? That it is a sin to be wild in a place set aside for wild-life?

I was park naturalist at Gulf State Park in the early 1980’s and worked summers there while in college. The love I have for this place is real and yet I left the job when I saw how developers and politicians, local and state level, constantly were clawing for a piece of the land there. Now, over three decades later, I’m watching as day-by-day a little more wild is removed to make way for a GREEN travel destination.

I wonder what the awesome people spending their hard-earned money visiting a green destination would think if they knew how the land was being managed. I’m betting they would care if they are investing in eco-friendly places. And to be clear…there is nothing eco-friendly about the destruction happening at the park. Every time I cycle through these areas I feel both boiling mad and heartbroken for the habitat that is removed to make it what….pretty…less snaky?

We must change the way we calibrate beauty. If green lawns and palmetto-free zones is the definition of a green destination, count me out. And you can make sure that before I invest my travel dollars into any ‘eco-tourism’ destination, I will research to see how they treated the wild ones, the innocents that had the audacity to be born there, while they were developing their eco-friendly resort.

There is a growing trend to re-wild ourselves…to connect deeply with nature and rekindle the fierce wildness within ourselves and unwind ourselves from domestication….to become more authentic. How ironic that humans are working toward this ideal while the ‘wild’ around us is being removed from ‘sustainable’ and ‘eco-friendly’ destinations. There’s something very perverse and insane about this.

Like the wild animals, I need to retreat to a place where I can be in wild habitat. My heart is breaking to see the ideals of sustainability screwed over in the name of ‘eco-tourism.’

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