Tunneling ancient trees a good idea for tourism?

  • Cutting tunnels into trees as a tourism strategy. Photo Credit https://www.flickr.com/photos/dollar_bin/513908000/in/photolist-oVAfc6-m1Yeww-MpUVE-MpUWL

I think a lot about tourism. It’s practically the impetus for this blog. It drives my desire to see the world and now, my graduate studies in urban economic development. That said, I came across this pretty unfortunate NPR story (and this National Geographic one) on a 1000 year old sequoia tree meeting its demise after a rough storm.


An 1899 stereograph shows the Pioneer Cabin sequoia in Calaveras Grove, Calif.
(B.L. Singley/New York Public Library)


To “inspire tourism” to national parks in the 19th century, tunnels were carved into the trunks of a few of these natural beauties to draw patrons to the parks. It seems odd today that anyone would think this a good idea, but it certainly is a remnant of a time when people had an incomplete sense of just how fragile our natural environments really are. Hence today, we have irreversible damage to the earth now threatening human existence. Small tradeoffs I guess (sarcasm).

In all seriousness though, the practice of tunneling trees makes me wonder about what things we do today (especially in the name of tourism) that future generations might frown upon in the very same manner. The blurb below from the National Park Service reflects on the practice:

Our expectations of national parks have changed immensely during the past half century. When our national parks were young, cutting tunnels through sequoia trees was a way to popularize the parks and gain support for their protection. In those early days, national parks usually were managed to protect individual features rather than to protect the integrity of the complete environment. Today, we realize that our national parks represent some of the last primeval landscapes in America, and our goal in the parks is to allow nature to run its course with as little interference from humans as possible. Tunnel trees had their time and place in the early history of our national parks. But today sequoias which are standing healthy and whole are worth far more.

Lessons like these are the kinds we can’t afford to forget as we grapple with the changes we need to make in order to take better care of the planet. I’m not suggesting this practice in and of itself is the reason we have climate change, but in the spirit of thinking critically about the things we do in the name of travel, leisure, tourism, and economic growth, I hope we can see where our leisurely desires might not jive with what makes sense for the environment.

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