Back in the 1950s, a nun teaching at my grade school often repeated a dire prediction. Within our lifetimes, she told our class, there would be so many people in the United States that we would run out of water and food, and we would all suffer.
I hear the same forecasts today. And every number crunched seems to support them.
Are there too many people? It often seems so.
I hate it when cars jam the highway, when I have to stand in line for food, drink or rides at the state fair, when stadium tickets cost a day's pay because 50,000 other people also are eager to watch the same game I'd like to see.
They're crowding my hunting and fishing, too. Anglers sometimes stand shoulder to shoulder at the trout parks.
A few of our reservoirs are occasionally dangerous to fish because of the boat traffic. On a fishing vacation in Michigan, my friends and I saw at least 500 boats full of people fishing for walleye around a channel entrance to Lake Michigan in the middle of the night in near freezing weather.
The number of boats virtually guaranteed that the fishing was crazy good, but we didn't launch. We simply did not want to have to deal with so many anglers in such a small area.
How many is too many people? We've all heard that "Two's company; three's a crowd," but sometimes when fishing a small creek, I'm distressed to meet even a solitary angler fishing downstream while I'm working my way upstream.
When I was a kid, the nation held 150 million people, now it contains more than 270 million.
Despite the increase, we haven't seen the hardships predicted. In fact, people grow larger, live longer and occupy bigger houses than ever before. Perhaps shortages will come in the future, for it seems there must be an upper limit to how many people can live in this country or on this planet. If what happens when wildlife overpopulate their habitat is any indication, we may go from boom to bust in a flash.
Human overpopulation presents a thorny problem. Every time I think about how our numbers may be growing too fast, I end up asking myself, "So exactly which people don't I want on earth?" Of course, I have no answer.
The Conservation Department's mandate has nothing to do with population control. However, one of the byproducts of our efforts to protect and preserve forests, fish and wildlife helps you and me survive the population crunch.
No matter where I've lived I've relied on paths to take me away from the crush of people. I call them "paths," but they are more like avenues away from crowds, or, to say it another way, a way back to myself.
At different times in my life, my escape paths have involved motoring up a wild river bordered by greenery, canoeing in a cattail marsh to the eerie sounds of diving ducks and walking a trail through a grass-carpeted river bottom. I've had favorite hills to climb, treasured rivers to wade and campsites I would visit so many times the trees themselves seemed to recognize me.
The Conservation Department has nearly a thousand areas where you can find similar paths whenever you need them. Granted, some of our urban areas have many visitors, but other conservation areas a few miles farther out from the city often will not have a single car in their parking lots. Visit, explore and revisit them. They provide perfect paths to beauty, relaxation and solitude.
Tom Cwynar, Editor