Let me preface this story with something: I am a native Coloradan who – with the exception of a very humid year in St. Louis – has lived here my whole life.
This is a cool fact – but it does not make me better than anyone else reading this who happens to not have grown up here.
So, I was kinda surprised at the comments we got about a seemingly uncontroversial article we posted on Facebook a couple of weeks ago about Alderfer/Three Sisters Park being a great hike near Denver for people and their dogs.
The main sentiment? We should not have told the general public this relatively popular and highly trafficked park that allows dogs exists. Also, people (read: transplants) are incapable of cleaning up after their dogs – and we’re making it worse by having the audacity to recommend cool hikes. A sampling of the comments:
“Well … Now it’s going to be more packed …”
“Stop it! Already too many people, dogs, cars, bikers in this park in my neighborhood!”
“This isn’t news. And we just had another park shut down because of too much traffic. Yes, let’s advertise another area so it can have too many visitors with dogs. Ugh.”
“Thanks 9NEWS for perpetuating the destruction of another open space.”
((RELATED: Hikers could be loving Hanging Lake to death))
It’s worth mentioning that people might be touchy because Three Sisters isn’t far from the Elk Meadow dog park – and that open space park was shut down because of people too inconsiderate to clean up after their damn dogs.
Angry comments like this weren’t just limited to Evergreen though.
Just a few days ago, we posted a story about the ice caves in Rifle Mountain Park. That’s about four hours from Elk Meadow, so it would be fair to say it’s a totally different community.
The comments, though, were very similar:
“They were an incredible sight …. Until you shared this.”
“Good job 9NEWS. Now this too will be destroyed by overcrowding and dog feces.”
“Well there went that little piece of hidden Colorado. Now every noob in the state will descend on this little [enclave] and it will be full of Subarus and dog poo.”
“On behalf of those of us that live here … please stay home. We are hard to get to and our hotels are bad. Plus it’s not that pretty and all the locals open carry. Also the water is yuck. And there is nothing else around. The restaurants are all open at weird times. So if you come … stay at Hanging Lake!”
To be honest, when we posted these articles, I figured people would be glad to hear about cool places to explore in Colorado. Also, it’s worth mentioning that both of these locations are on public land – and by definition, this means it’s land that belongs to all of us. We all have an equal right to be there.
So why the vitriol? In the past, people haven’t been quite this protective of the cool spots in Colorado when we’ve mentioned them on 9NEWS. What happened? Is Elk Meadow making everyone touchy? Are people getting angrier because the population’s growing, so places are getting more crowded?
And (yes, I’m about to go full Carrie Bradshaw here) it made me wonder: Why does this make everyone so angry in the first place?
So, we brought in 9NEWS Psychologist Dr. Max Wachtel, who offered his professional opinion. My coworker Kelly Jensen – who wrote the Three Sisters story and got some very passionate emails after it was posted – helped me ask him a few questions about the psychology of why, perhaps, people are so frustrated.
Native Coloradans have more in common with hipsters than we’d like to admit
“There are two possible things going on,” he said. “One is that people can be getting frustrated just by how crowded everything in Colorado is getting now. There are so many people moving to this state and it’s easy to say, you know, ‘I’ve lived here forever, I’m a native and things didn’t used to be … this way, so it sort of makes sense you might be frustrated by the crowd.
“The other thing going on is it’s sort of the hipster phenomenon, where as soon as the mainstream discovers this new park or this new place, it becomes ruined, like ‘this is my cool thing and nobody else is allowed to know about it.’ There’s some of that going on in Colorado right now.”
A big part of being human is the fact that, despite being inherently social creatures, we hate crowds. As Dr. Max said, they suck – and they suck even worse when you’re trying to be alone and get away from the grind, and instead all you find are a bunch of people with selfie sticks letting their dogs poop all over the place while they vigorously Instagram.
And this means people are especially testy about crowds on trails.
“A big part of this is an expectations thing,” Dr. Max said. “If you are heading up to some remote place in the mountains, or a park you think nobody knows about, you’re expecting that you’re going to be alone, or you’re expecting that there are going to be a few people there, and then you get there and you’re constantly having to move over for people. When the reality is different from what you’re expecting, that can lead to some frustration.”
But, it’s a public place. And people often go to public places – in fact, we all have the right to be there, which is pretty cool. There isn’t a definition written in the Colorado constitution saying native-born Coloradans have first dibs on anything cool in the entire state (although it seems like some people think there should be).
What makes people feel more entitled to public places than other people?
“There’s some sense of entitlement that we all have that’s kind of part of our nature, that if we feel like something is ours, we feel like we’re entitled to it, and that can be our house, that can be our phone, that can be an open space, so if we feel like it’s ours, we feel entitled to it. So we have the Colorado ethos nowadays where we feel like it’s ‘how do you kill a hipster? You drown them in the mainstream.’”
“As soon as something cool that only you and your friends know about and it becomes mainstream, whether it’s a band or a cool book or a piece of art, or an open space or trail, you know that sense of entitlement turns into rejection. You know, it’s like ‘I don’t like this anymore. These people are horrible because they found my secret spot.’”
“So that adds to that sense of entitlement,” he said.
But by the same token, it’s not cool to move to a state and let your dog poop all over the place while you’re being inconsiderate on crowded trails. How do you deal with that? Do you just lock yourself in your house playing “Rocky Mountain High” on repeat while getting increasingly angry and bitter?
Dr. Max says, like most things in life, you need to adjust your expectations.
“What do you do if you feel like you’re having a mental breakdown because everything in Colorado’s getting more crowded, or people are discovering the stuff that you feel like you alone are entitled to?” he said. “There are a couple of different things you can do: you can either let that drive you crazy and you can absolutely go on rants on Facebook and do whatever.
“Or, you can learn to accept it somehow. And that can be tough, but part of that is just changing and adjusting your attitude and expectations – and another part of that is learning maybe on a Saturday afternoon, that’s not the best time to go to these crowded parks. You know, you can adjust schedules so that you can use it on Tuesday afternoon or just work with your surroundings. Those are the kind of choices that we’ve got.”
I’ll admit: that sounds a little bleak. Just accept it? We’re Coloradans, gosh darn it. We don’t accept things – we work to make them better.
Think of it this way: People moving here are actually the symptom of a good thing.
We live in a great place with a healthy economy. Transplants are better than the alternative – a bleaker Denver with a net population loss and high unemployment rate.
It’s a hard thing to think about when your favorite dog park is closed because of dog poop, or when you’re reading about a nasty altercation between a runner and mountain biker on a trail – but it’s something that might be more productive than just getting angry on Facebook.
“One good attitude adjustment to have is not to complain about everybody coming here, but to think ‘there’s a reason why everybody is coming here,’” he said. “Our economy is booming, in my opinion it’s the best place in the country to live. It’s an amazing place.”
One last thing to mention? Dr. Max is right: this is an amazingly beautiful place. It’s not hard to clean up after your dog – or to just be considerate to other people with the same goal as you: to enjoy beautiful Colorado.
And as your mom has told you countless times: it’s not hard to be respectful. Or, if you prefer life lessons from Bambi: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all. And I'm not just talking about transplants here: I'm talking to natives like me. It's a whole more productive to be kind to people than to just get angry.
We got some tips on trail etiquette from Jeffco Open Space. You can read those here: http://on9news.tv/2nbxr72
And we also got some advice on keeping Rocky Mountain National Park (one of the most popular in the country) pristine here: http://on9news.tv/2nEA90w
9NEWS Interactive Media Producer and all around good person Kelly Jensen contributed to this story. Don't email her with your comments, complaints or feedback on this though.