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Gatekeeping The Narrows. Should you go, and if not, why not?

The Texas Narrows found on the Blanco River in Texas, is reaching almost mythical proportions. The mix between difficulty and secrecy has made this place a location on the map that more hikers are wishing to visit. But should they?

The Narrows itself is technically on public land, but there needs to be an understanding among the private landowners, and fellow hikers, that this place is indeed special. But who’s ultimately responsible for keeping the natural space natural?

The global pandemic of 2020 forced a lot of people to stay home, and from that came a renewed sense of wonder for the outdoor spaces. Parks across Texas, and even the rest of the country, have been seeing record-breaking turnout.

Texas implemented reservation systems to ensure crowd control limits, but reports are coming out of the national parks that the increase in traffic is putting a strain on the landscape itself.

Lack of funding and a strained workforce to maintain the parks make some of these places hard to keep looking, well, natural.

The national parks have seen these growing pains before though. With the completion of the Truman-era interstate system, Americans were traveling with such veracity that the parks were almost overcome with travelers. Immediately forcing them to complete additional infrastructure to accommodate the weary road travelers.

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From this came some amazing visitor’s centers and educational buildings to help curb the increased traffic.

In Texas, you find signs of previous park areas no longer in use as demand for space increased. At Bastrop State Park, there are multiple park areas no longer in use, and parks like Inks Lake SP feature new entrances that were rerouted to help with the traffic demand.

These are funded parks that implement programs to help the increased human traffic. They are kept within the rules and regulations of the park system, and they are able to effectively monitor crowd size, etc.

The Narrows was almost a mythical tale that spread across the internet. Those that have been were someone secretive about the trek, and others were vague with details.

The internet rumors began to take hold as well.

That the landowners were the cruel ones. Hoarding the area to themselves and shunning anyone looking to venture to their private paradise. Shooting anyone that would try and step onto their property.

But that’s the thing with Texas storytelling, it’s not always what it seems.

Keep your feet wet

Texas has some funny laws when it comes to land. Privatized land comes from the original settlers who were giving vast acres of land to settle in the wilderness.

They had all the land and kept it to themselves, but eventually, owners broke up pieces and donated it or sold it. Then from that, parks were able to acquire parts and broke them down from there.

That of course is not a history of land ownership in Texas, but it’s meant to say that landowners take a lot of pride in their acres. This is something seemingly passed down from generation to generation.

The rivers that traverse the lands are not part of that if it’s not on the land itself. Navigable water laws according to the Texas Parks & Wildlife website,

“In Texas, a stream is navigable if it is either “navigable in fact” or “navigable by statute.” These tests are explained below. Simply put, a non-navigable stream is a stream that is neither navigable in fact nor navigable by statute. Along a navigable stream, the public may boat, fish, swim, camp, and in general carry on any legal activity. Public use must be confined to the stream bed and, to a limited extent, the banks.

Texas river bed. Danny Laurel.

Along a non-navigable stream, the public generally has no right of use, and a private landowner may forbid public entry upon or along the waterway. However, there are some instances in which a perennial stream, even though it is not navigable in fact or navigable by statute, is nevertheless open to public use because the land bordering it was granted (prior to December 14, 1837) under civil law, which reserved ownership of beds of perennial streams”.

Your line stops where the river, creek starts. The rule that started going around is that as long as you stay in the Blanco river you’ll be fine. Or to make sure you “keep your feet wet”.

But with the increase in traffic meant a decrease in awareness, and an uptick of harassment, arrests, and towed vehicles began.

Who are the Gatekeepers?

Gatekeeping is prevalent in hiking and the outdoors. People that follow the gospel of Leave No Trace often speak the loudest. And like anything that means well, there are those that take principles and try to make them their own.

There’s a group on Facebook that brought up The Narrows, and it of course got heated. Among the commenters, Bobby A. typed, “We’re hikers. Probably the most conscious people on the planet’.

The fact that all outdoor enthusiasts want to worship the lands they hike on is unfortunately just not accurate. Everywhere you go the more people that visit the more people will drop trash, leave plenty of trace and move on with their lives.

That’s just what we’re seeing across the state with more people venturing into the outdoors.

The fact that the landowners are keeping this area pristine and in tip-top shape is also inaccurate. Rumors of landowners hosting more and more pay-to-play parties have begun to spread, and so it seems that no one is really taking charge and trying to protect this area of the river.

Biggie Smalls once poetically versed, ‘More Money, More Problems’, and if there’s money to be made you’re going to see landowners find opportunities to generate income. HipCamp-type sites are increasing the number of campers to areas of land that wouldn’t normally see an increase of traffic.

The other end of that would be if a park system designated The Narrows as parkland, or a nature preserve to protect the environment and control the traffic around the area.

But then you’d deal with the rub of the landowners, making it safer for hikers to visit, etc, etc.

Do outdoor influencers have a responsibility?

That being said; outdoor influencers, such as this page, have a responsibility to steward and protect the lands that they promote by being careful and cautious about where they’re promoting.

Social media influencers have come under fire in the past for geotagging areas that aren’t meant for an increase in traffic and causing protected areas to be overrun with tourists looking for their next worthy Instagram shot. READ: Is Geotagging on Instagram Ruining Natural Wonders?

Most recently Hiking Texas, an Instagram account with 87 thousand followers posted a picture of The Narrows with a caption that seemed to promote visiting the area with limited verbiage for how dangerous the place is for an inexperienced hiker.

They write, “The trek to The Narrows is both challenging and physically demanding. I wouldn’t recommend attempting the hike without serious research beforehand”.

Full disclosure: I follow that account, and they’ve always been extremely nice online when I’ve had questions.

So should you go to The Narrows?

I know that just writing about it seems to be enticing, but as the rules state, this is technically public land. If you want to go on the difficult journey, that’s totally up to you. Myself and this site will never tell anyone they cannot visit public spaces.

Here are three reasons to consider before sending people to sensitive areas:

  • An increase of traffic means an increase of trash and human erosion.

To my original point. We all want to believe that everyone spending time in the outdoors is all about packing out what they’re packing in, but that is just not the case. An increase in traffic will create more trash on the water but more importantly disrupt the natural space for the wildlife that call it home.

Remember this isn’t a park. There isn’t a way to control the flow of traffic designate people to maintain the area in and around the water. Human erosion will make this place less interesting over time.

  • An increase of traffic means an increase for trespassing.

It’s just a numbers game. If you look at the people from the Instagram post suddenly wanting to visit you’re going to have people that don’t do their homework in regard to the rules.

Let’s say traffic only goes up slightly. 1 out of 10 commits a crime by going into someone’s land because they didn’t realize it really was that much walking, or walking in water. That’s 10 for everyone 100 people. Think about that increase as more and more people want to go.

And that leads into the final and most important point:

  • An increase in traffic will potentially put a strain on emergency workers having to deal with people breaking the law and anyone that gets hurt trying to navigate the terrain.

If you are caught breaking the law the landowners are sure to let you know about it. That has been established.

Let’s say you get hurt because you’re not as experienced of a hiker as you thought, and what started as a cute photo-op has now turned into a dire situation.

You’re now asking an emergency worker to go in there and rescue you.

“That’s what they’re hired to do”.

Eyeroll. They’re hired to help people yes, but you’re in a small town, and they might just not have the resources to come get an increase of people getting injured.

How drastic would the emergency need to be to take that point seriously?

In conclusion

This is a heated topic that has points on both sides.

There are no correct answers, and a solution to making everyone happy is nowhere close to being formed.

The important takeaway is that this place is NOT for beginner hikers.

The Narrows is not a park with regulations and is not meant for high traffic.

If you must go, make sure you do your homework, don’t hike alone, and keep the area just as you found it. Take only pictures, and barely leave a footprint.

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