Goblin Valley vandals show scouting’s shortcomings

The Better UTAH Beat airs Tuesday afternoons on KVNU’s For the People. Podcasts of previous episodes are available here.
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Utahns are making international news again after a group of Boy Scouts traveled to Goblin Valley in southern Utah and one of their leaders knocked over one of the stunning geological formations from which the park gets its name. If their self-made video is accurate, it literally took one man less than ten seconds to topple over what nature spent millions of years patiently creating.

goblin valley imageThe martian-esque Goblin Valley–where, incidentally, scenes from Galaxy Quest were filmed–consists of thousands of Hoodoos. Hoodoos are pinnacles of rocks that are formed over millions of years as softer sandstone erodes, leaving harder, more durable sandstone in various, stunning formations.

Hoodoos aren’t unique to Goblin Valley. In fact, you can see them throughout Utah, whether you’re visiting the Needles District in Canyonlands National Park, exploring beautiful Bryce Canyon National Park, or sightseeing at the Cedar Breaks National Monument, as well as various other places throughout our great state. But the hoodoos found in Goblin Valley are striking for their interesting human-like size and for how approachable they are. Whereas the hoodoos at Bryce Canyon are huge and distant; at Goblin Valley, you can walk right up to one and have your picture taken.

As almost anyone with an internet connection now knows, several Boy Scout leaders (presumably they were sober, being Boy Scout leaders and all) decided to take advantage of that rare proximity by toppling one over. Their behavior, as thousands over the world have noted, was shameful. It also ignores the basic history of the Boy Scout organization.

According to a press release by the Boy Scouts of America’s Utah National Parks Council, scouting has long been tied to the preservation of the environment.

“For more than a century, the Boy Scouts of America has been a leader in conservation—from stewardship to sustainability,” reads the organization’s release.

The release continues: “We teach our 2.6 million youth members and 1.1 million adult members, who collectively spend more than 5.5 million nights outdoors, the principles of “Leave No Trace.” These principles stress a commitment to maintaining the integrity and character of the outdoors and all living things.”

Unfortunately, that message isn’t making its way into the lower ranks of the Boy Scouts of America, at least not here in Utah. In fact, even a cursory exposure to the Leave No Trace philosophy would have impressed upon these men that destroying a 200 million year old geographical feature was less than scoutsman-like. However, when an organization spends more time stressing its unique heterosexual identity, there’s no wonder that other, more critical elements of its mission–like environmental stewardship for example–may be falling by the wayside.

Responsibility for harming a delicate and unique natural resource ultimately resides with the man who used his considerable heft to knock down the geological feature. However, it also provides a much needed opportunity for the Boy Scouts of America to address its own priorities.

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