This is why we can't have nice things
We have a suggestion for the beleaguered Crater Lake National Park staff trying to cope with unspeakably rude visitors whose illegal activities are threatening the clarity of the lake’s world-renowned beauty and cleanliness. Just shut it down.
Access to the water’s edge, that is. Allow visitors to gaze down from the rim, take all the photographs they like, but close the Cleetwood Cove trail, and arrest anyone who tries to venture down.
The boat tours to Wizard Island are shut down this year anyway because of the coronavirus pandemic. The park staff is short-handed because of limitations on how many workers can be lodged at the park. As a result, the restroom at Cleetwood Cove is closed because there are not enough staff members to clean it.
The bathroom at the parking area by the trailhead is open. But visitors have broken into the one at the lake — or relieved themselves along the trail on the way down without bothering to pack out their own excrement.
Who behaves this way — and why? We would like to think that locals would not. Crater Lake is, after all, Oregon’s only national park, and a favorite summer getaway for Rogue Valley residents.
Park staff report that throngs of visitors — many from out of state, judging by the license plates in the parking lots — are behaving as though there is no pandemic, not wearing masks or making any attempt to observe social distancing.
If they want to risk infecting each other with COVID-19, that’s their business, but it means more sensible people have to stay away for their own protection.
The potential damage to the lake is an even larger concern. COVID-19 is survivable, and eventually there may be an effective treatment and a vaccine. But there is no vaccine against invasive species and human waste contaminating the fragile ecosystem of the deepest lake in the United States and seventh-deepest in the world. And once that happens, it is unlikely to be reversible.
Visitors are not only using the caldera as their personal toilet, they are reportedly carrying illegal water rings, inflatable kayaks, rafts and snorkeling gear down to the water — items than can introduce invasive species into the lake.
The obvious solution is a new kind of social distancing: Prohibit everyone from venturing beyond the rim, even to Cleetwood Cove, for the rest of the season. If people insist on behaving like animals instead of presumably civilized human beings, fence them out.