Ass-monkeys at the Ape Caves

1 November 2015 | Episode |

The Ape Caves at Mount St. Helens are being overrun by out of control hipsters looking for a cheap thrill spelunking in the longest lava tube in the United States.

Al Thomas for The Columbian reports:

“Faced with heavy use and after-hours parties, drinking and fires at night and in winter, the Gifford Pinchot National Forest is proposing changes at popular Ape Cave, including closure gates in the off-season.”

Whenever a story like this hits the inter-webs, the most common response by the outdoor community is the classic “old-man-yelling-at-whippersnappers” approach. We reported on this popular phenom here and here and here, but let’s read the article I linked all the way and consider for a second a different approach. For example, we could look that this is a realistic, but normal occurrence when people are using the outdoors and enjoying their time.

After all, we want them out there, right? Right?

Of course, people have to be more respectful and responsible, which is an important lesson that folks of all ages need to learn. However, it’s also great to read that the National Forest is not responding to this by shutting everything down and yelling at society.

Look, I get it, people can be pigs. I hate it every time I see someone trampling the wildflowers, leaving trash, or taking their dog into the wilderness, but people in the outdoors aren’t any more pigs than at home.
The only way to leave the wilderness completely pristine is by not allowing anyone to go there. No one. Ever. Even if you drive a Prius, wear sandals, and chew on freeze-dried kale chips.
What we need is staffing, management and infrastructure improvements to adequately manage the crowds.

There was an open house to discuss proposed changes at Ape Cave scheduled this Saturday at the Gifford Pinchot National Forest headquarters. I wasn’t there, but I hope the voices that were heard weren’t just the typical crowd proclaiming the outdoors is just for them and no one else. Luckily the list of proposals The National Forest is considering to help facilitate the popularity is going much further and seems to be taking the right approach.

The proposal includes:

  • Installing vandal-resistant cave gates to restrict access in the off-season and after hours at the main entrance, upper entrance and upper skylight of Ape Cave.
  • Adding a public gathering area along the current access trail to the main entrance for talks about cave etiquette and resources.
  • Adding an enclosure fence surrounding the upper entrance to Ape Cave and from Ape Headquarters around the main entrance.
  • Filling in with boulders a human-dug entrance in to the upper cave. The hole was excavated over the years by cavers.
  •  Adding a ladder or hand holds in the lava fall area in the upper cave.
  • Potentially adding a decontamination station along the trail to the cave entrance if white-nose syndrome occurs. White-nose is a fungal growth around the muzzles and wings of hibernating bats. The station would include a walk-through foot bath for cleaning the bottom of shoes with a mild detergent.
  • Building two exclosures inside Ape Cave for demonstration and educational opportunities. A barricade fence would keep people out of two small sections of the lower cave.
  • Installing four to seven interpretive signs for self-guided education tours.
  • Limiting access inside the cave to “business hours,’’ such at 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. from mid-April through mid-October

National Forest Service, well done! That the way to respond. You embrace and welcome the change in popularity of a special place and you recognize that this can lead to infrastructure improvements that will benefit everyone.

Last year, I visited the Ape Caves with my family and we all loved it. Yes, it would’ve been a big bummer to find a ton of man-made messes everywhere, but the proposed improvements would’ve definitely benefitted my family’s trip.

The outdoors are hip right now and this is not the first story we are reading like this. Certainly, it will not be the last. When we hear about a place being used/abused, we first are shocked and saddened, which is understandable and justified.
However, we, as the experienced outdoor lovers, can see that as the opportunity we’ve been waiting for.
This can lead to better facilities, better access and an increased appreciation of those special places.

Can’t wait to see what the National Forest will turn the Ape Caves destination into.

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