After a stressful junior year of college, I knew only a handful of things: I didn’t want to be in school, I wanted to go west, I wanted to live with few possessions, and I wanted to visit a whole bunch of National Parks. The rest was up to fate. On June 3, I jumped into my new home — a renovated Chevy Express van — drove west and didn’t look back. I named the van “Hayduke” after Edward Abbey’s fictional environmentalist in The Monkey Wrench Gang.

My first National Park stop on my road trip was in Indiana. Driving in, the place didn’t have “National Park” written all over it. The Indiana Sand Dunes National Lakeshore is near a busy railroad and massive factories. The chipper female voice narrating the automated movie in the visitor center said, “The National Lakeshore is located in one of the most industrialized areas in the United States,” as though it were a good thing.

Somewhat perturbed, I drove my van to the Cowles Bog Trail. The ranger said I could see many different ecosystems and have it mostly to myself.

I understood fairly quickly why the Cowles Bog Trail wasn’t popular. The first section of the hike runs beneath crackling power lines. As it entered a stretch of swampland, I found myself on the edge of ArcelorMittal, the world’s top-ranking steelmaker. Even when the trees covered up the operations, I could still hear the massive, rumbling machinery. After climbing over forested dunes and arriving at Lake Michigan, to my right, a giant smokestack reared it’s ugly head into the sky. I don’t know the composition of what comes out of that particular smokestack, but I do know that steel industry emissions often include carbon dioxide, naphthalene, ammonium compounds, sulfur, and coke dust. Oh, and the beach is covered in trash.

Read the rest of this post about the development of America’s public lands at Rás Life, where the post was originally published July 20, 2016.


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