I found this report by CNN more than a little disturbing. A new study by the Nature Conservancy found that Americans are visiting national parks less often. Researchers believe that 98 percent of the decline can be attributed to an increase in electronic entertainment: TV, video games, movie rentals, and the internet.

People need nature—and national parks specifically. But national parks need people too. Without visitors and a strong constituency, our natural heritage is likely to be eroded by fundingcuts, back-door administrative changes, and commercialization. (If you don’t think the crown jewels of US natural places are in jeopardy, click on the links above. I dare you.)

The high water mark was 1987, when Americans averaged 1.2 visits to national parks a year. Nowadays, that figure is 0.9—less than one visit per person per year. I realize that I’m a bit of an outdoor-nut, and lucky enough to live in the national park treasure trove of the Pacific Northwest, but… yikes, that’s roughly my monthly average.

However mediated by electronic phenomena modern life becomes, I can’t imagine replacing the rawness of a direct encounter with nature. That’s why next week, you may find me here, but you won’t find me here.

Postscript: Washington Trails Association just released a list of the top 10 threatened hiking trails in the state (pdf). If you care about conserving wild places in Washington—and muscle-powered access to those places—it’s worth checking out.