Over on my other blog, The Switchel Traveler, I wrote about the growing popularity of backcountry recreation in northern New England, especially in Vermont, and including in my home town of Cambridge. See Backcountry Recreation, Part 1.
This growing interest in backcountry recreation is exciting! It is exciting for Cambridge. And I am part of Cambridge town government. What are the implications for government?
My hope is: not much.
In Backcountry Recreation, Part 1, I linked to many organizations involved in backcountry recreation. In fact, I was surprised at how many organizations there are. None of the organizations mentioned in that blog post are part of government. They are all either for-profit or not-for-profit organizations, although some of them receive a portion of their revenue from government.
My vision of community is people doing things for themselves as much as possible, and asking their government to do things for them only when absolutely necessary. That is how the Long Trail was started. That is how most of the organizations mentioned in Backcountry Recreation, Part 1 were started. When people do as much for themselves as possible, not necessarily individually but in groups, it builds strong communities. When people ask government to do too much for them, it weakens communities. That is one answer to the question in the header: “What is a proper relationship between a free people and their government?”
Most of the organizations mentioned in Backcountry Recreation, Part 1 are not-for-profit organizations, and we certainly need them. But we also need for-profit enterprises. Without profits, there is no money for people to donate to not-for-profit organizations. Nor is there any money for people to pay taxes to run government. Government should encourage for-profit enterprises.
Consider the founding of the Green Mountain Club and the creation of the Long Trail. As a result of hiking several sections of the Long Trail with Nancy last year (details here), I became interested in the Proctor family. The Proctors were wealthy from profits earned in for-profit enterprises, and they were early benefactors of the Green Mountain Club. Without the Proctor family, the Green Mountain Club and Long Trail as we know them today may not have been created.
Here’s an interesting twist on that story. I blogged about the Proctor family and the Green Mountain Club here, here and here. In those posts, I referenced several books about the history of hiking and the Green Mountain Club. But there is one significant book that I did not mention: Forest and Crag: A History of Hiking, Trail Blazing, and Adventure in the Northeast Mountains, by Laura and Guy Waterman, an 888 page book published in 1989 with a second edition in 2003. This is truly a classic reference, and indeed Mark Bushnell referred to Forest and Crag in his article about hiking pioneer Alden Partridge. (See Backcountry Recreation, Part 1 for a link to Mark Bushnell’s article.) Why didn’t I mention Forest and Crag in my several posts about the Proctor family and the Green Mountain Club? Because there is not a single reference in that book to anyone named Proctor, even though there is a long chapter about the Long Trail and the Green Mountain Club.
Yes, I know there are bad actors in the for-profit sector, and some level of government regulation is needed. But in my experience, the overwhelming majority of people in the for-profit sector are good people and they deserve our appreciation. There are bad actors, as well as many good people, in the not-for-profit and government sectors, too.
And yes, I also know that not all not-for-profit organizations will thrive. Some will fail. There will be rivalries. That’s life. It’s best if they work those things out themselves, with as little government involvement as possible.
And finally, yes I know that government does have a role to play in some circumstances. We wouldn’t have many roads or parks without government involvement. But I prefer to let the private sector do as much as possible, and involve the government only when absolutely necessary. Not everything needs to be a road or a park.
The photo at the top of this post was taken yesterday at the West Farm in Cambridge.
Like many people, I enjoy and appreciate backcountry recreation. I do not wish for it to become government country.