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Sports editor

Les Winkeler is sports editor and outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan.

Traveling through the parks and walking the trails of Southern Illinois can be an infuriating experience.

Litter is everywhere.

It doesn’t matter how remote the spot, there always seems to be an empty beer or soda can along the shoreline or just off the trail. It’s almost inconceivable that someone would take the trouble to hike to the prettiest, most remote spots in the region and be willing to trash them at the same time.

But, that’s where we are as a region and as a culture.

Seeing the trash ratchets my blood pressure into the red zone. The same questions present themselves every time. Who does this? Why does anyone believe this is acceptable? How can we stop it?

An answer to any of those questions would certainly provide clues for the other two.

Speaking personally, trashing the environment wasn’t an option in my family. It simply wasn’t done. There were no sermons. There was no singular “Come to Jesus” moment. Cleaning up after yourself was just something you did, whether in the house or outside.

Obviously, not everyone’s family held the “Thou shall not litter” truth to be self-evident.

If that basic common-sense education doesn’t come from the home, it has to come somewhere else. In reality, this is an issue bigger than just littering. Littering is a symptom of a larger disease, either a lack of concern or outright contempt for the environment.

Contempt is not too strong a term.

Look at what is happening during this latest government showdown. Putting the politics aside, it is shocking to see what is happening to our national parks. The parks have remained open, but they are largely unstaffed.

Visitors are still pouring into the parks and trashing them. News photos have shown overflowing garbage bins. There have been other issues with tourists using the national parks as outdoor toilets.

Again, who would do such a thing?

OK, I get it. Going to a national park is rarely a spur of the moment thing. Families plan for months, sometimes years to see Yellowstone, Yosemite or the Grand Canyon. It’s difficult to pass on the vacation of a lifetime if the parks are still open.

That’s no excuse for not exercising common sense and carrying trash out. Chances are, tourists will stop at a gas station or convenience store on the way home. I’ve never visited a convenience store that didn’t have several outside garbage receptacles. Chances are, tourists are spending time in motels. I’ve never seen a motel that didn’t have space to dispose of beverage cans or fast food wrappers.

If people aren’t going to learn simple respect for the environment at home, perhaps our governmental units could help.

On the federal level it would be nice if the people overseeing our national parks weren’t former lobbyists for energy companies. It would be nice for the president, senators and representatives to advocate for the one planet we call home rather than open the most delicate places on the planet to extraction industries.

On the state level, it would be nice if the department in charge of state parks would serve as a watchdog to mines and minerals. It would be nice if the people entrusted to protecting the environment didn’t feel a need to monetize state parks.

Those aren’t the type of things one has to muse about in a perfect world. Those are the types of things that seem like common sense … at least in the house where I grew up.

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On Twitter: @LesWinkeler​


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