We live across the street from the Big Sioux Recreation Area, a state park here in South Dakota. It’s a riparian area along the Big Sioux River, with many very large cottonwoods and burr oaks, among other trees. We’ve lived in Brandon for over 20 years now, and I’ve always enjoyed the park, including the birds found within. That enjoyment is becoming less and less as time goes by.
There’s a definite pecking order in terms of what passes for “recreation” in South Dakota. Birds and birding, and wildlife in general, seems to be very far down that list. “Parks and Rec” often seems to mean accommodating a few select recreational uses of public land. Hunting definitely tops the list. What else would you think when you get to your favorite South Dakota State Park, and are immediately greeted with a sign that says “Warning – Hunting Season in Progress”? Nothing says rest and relaxation more than walking a beautiful path, looking for birds, all the time with a wary eye for any trigger happy hunter that may be targeting something in your general vicinity.
Accommodating campers seems to be the second highest priority. The Big Sioux Recreation Area has always had camping spots, but until recently, they’d been wonderfully vegetated. There are two loops with camping spots, loops that USED to be lined with cedar trees and other vegetation. They were wonderful for birding. The deciduous trees and shrubs around the camping sites themselves were sometimes spectacular for warblers and other migrants in the spring. The thick cover offered by the cedars and surrounding bushes always attracted birds. A few years ago on a beautiful November day, as my son and I walked through the park, we were surprised by 15 or more Long-eared Owls that were roosting in the evergreens. They were incredibly tame, allowing close approach. People came from all around the area to see this unique circumstance, a group of tame, easily seen Long-eared owls that had chosen the Big Sioux Rec Area camping loops as their winter roosting spot.
Last summer, the park began removing trees and shrubs. Ostensibly, part of the reason was due to what’s become an all out war on Eastern Red Cedar by parks in the state. However, one of the directly stated reasons for the move? All the increasingly large campers that use the Big Sioux Rec Area were having a difficult time backing into some of the camping spots. Those cedar trees that held all the Long-eared Owls? They are ALL gone. All the bushes and other vegetation that used to line the roads of the camping loops? Gone. What was once a wonderful habitat for birds is now a habitat for…FFNLCs.
What is a FFNLC, you ask? My very blunt term for “Fat Fake Nature Lovin’ Campers”. Frankly, I usually put another “F” in front of the term, and you can imagine what that stands for. DEFINITE “Fake nature lovers”, given what passes for “camping” at the Big Sioux Recreation Area. Last night, I was walking through the park and passed a MASSIVE RV that has been parked in the same spot all week. Despite being there for several days, I had yet to actually see someone OUTSIDE, until last night. Last night, there was a definite FFNLC, “roughing it” in the park. This FFNLC was massive on a grand scale, just as was her RV! And just as massive was the huge flatscreen TV she watching in the “wild” of the park. The RV had a panel on the outside that opened to reveal this massive flatscreen TV. This FFNLC was sitting in a lawn chair with a huge bowl of chips(?), munching away with the volume turned ALL the way up so the rest of the park could also enjoy her viewing of American Idol.
NOTHING says “Nature” more than sitting in a lawn chair, with your satellite TV hooked up, watching a giant screen and speakers belting out American Idol. And now you see why I usually add another “F” in front of FFNLC. Even if there WERE a bird in the general vicinity of the VERY fat FFNLC, there’s no way I could have heard it over her TV.
I don’t want to be mean about the “fat” part of FFNLC, but…c’mon, it fits SO well for FFNLCs. This weekend, on a GORGEOUS afternoon, I took a walk through the park with my pups. There’s a nice, long, paved bike/walking trail through the park that we like to take the pups on. Beautiful day…many campers at the park…gorgeous trail…and for the 1 1/2 mile walk, do you know how many people I came across on the trail? ONE. ONE!!! But yet you got back to the campground area itself, and there were certainly plenty of FAT FFNLC’s “roughing” it. “Roughing it” nowadays evidently means never moving more than 15 feet from the vicinity of your massive, air conditioned, satellite TV equipped, more-comfortable-than-most-peoples-houses, 40-foot RV. TAKE A FREAKIN’ WALK, FFNLCs. TRY TURNING OFF THE TV and actually enjoying the park itself.
There’s obviously no going back. My very birdy camping loops are no more, and it’s not going to change. EVERY change the State Parks make around here end up REMOVING habitat, and putting in MORE camping stalls. I guess I should enjoy what habitat remains in the Big Sioux Recreation Area, because its inevitable that any bird habitat presently found there is only going to be reduced even further as time goes by.