One of the insights in Conserving Mount Nittany is that the Mountain has stayed a remarkable, natural place close to Penn State largely because it has been left alone. The conservators of the Mountain have never been interested in making the Mountain over in their own image, but in letting the Mountain be itself.
What does this mean? It means you won’t find asphalt trails to make the hike easier. It means you won’t find benches littering the sides of the trails. It means you’ll follow paths marked by little blue or white marks on the trees, and only the bare minimum of signage. This is how we addressed it in the book:
TAS: One of the things the Mount Nittany Conservancy does an excellent job with is maintaining hiking paths across the Mountain. Coupled with marketing efforts across the region, are you concerned about the risk to dilute the natural experience of the Mountain? What about problems that come with greater numbers of visitors like erosion?
BN: In 2000 I left the Nittany Valley and moved to Bratislava, Slovakia. One of the things that crushed me during my eight years in Europe was that so much of the world had become globalized.
What I mean is that many of the historic palaces, castles, and villages had become completely oriented to tourists. The paths and steps and signs that are set up for tourists end up having the effect of becoming a central part of what you’re experiencing. It becomes very difficult to feel as if you’re really walking on the same steps that a Medieval knight walked on, for instance. It’s as though they put a wall of glass or transparent plastic between you and all the things you came to see and touch. Imagine that you lived in a world where the only way you could ever see people fall in love is in the movies.
Too much marketing and tourism-minded positioning and too many “improvements” can seriously take away from the thing you’re trying to promote. Too many changes can remove the naturalness of the experience.
There’s always a risk of this with Mount Nittany, but so long as there’s a feeling for conserving the Mountain “as is” rather than constantly wondering what might be added to make it even better, things will be alright. Remember, the goal of Lion’s Paw and the Mount Nittany Conservancy has always been to preserve Mount Nittany “in its natural state.”
I think we should view Mount Nittany like Central Park in Manhattan. We want people to go and visit and enjoy. At some point we might have to do things like put in brick steps in places to ease problems like erosion, but in general you don’t set out to try to improve Central Park. You just let it be, and people will keep coming because it’s the one place that’s just been left as-is.
When I was on the Mountain recently, I visited the Mike Lynch Overlook. It’s the most famous of the overlooks because it offers a beautiful view of Penn State and State College.
Erosion is a constant concern at the overlook. It’s a heavily taxed part of the Mountain that has to bear enormous numbers of visitors.
In the spirit of Ben Novak’s remarks, I imagine it’ll eventually be necessary to convert the overlook in the way the Nittany Lion Shrine area was recently redone.
In other words, maintain the naturalness of the overlook but sustainably address the problem of erosion by making this spot of the Mountain one with a few levels of porous rubber/concrete with built-in seating that respects the area.