There are various versions of how the shoe tree on the outskirts of Middlegate, NV began, but they all have the same gist. In the 1980s newlyweds were traveling home and got in an argument on the outskirts of Middlegate. She threatened to walk home and he said she’d have to do it without her shoes and tossed them into a tree. Shortly after they made up; then returned later with their first-born and tossed his first pair of shoes into the same tree that was to become reportedly the world’s largest shoe tree.
Some of you may have heard, but the shoe tree was sawed down by vandals in the cover of darkness and discovered the morning of December 31st. This crime has received national attention in the Reno Gazette-Journal, SF Chronicle, and made it on Yahoo News. There is even a page on Facebook with 1,000 plus fans titled Middlegate Shoe Tree – Rest in Peace.
Looking at this from an outdoor ethics viewpoint, there are a few aspects to consider. There’s the principle of not leaving your belongings or trash behind and leaving nature to be just that - natural. However, considering the multitude of shoes found in the tree, that tumble weed has blown away decades ago.
This brings up tradition; there has been a mass outcry from those who have tossed their old shoes into the tree. The Facebook fan page is riddled with stories of those that have made a tradition of visiting and sharing moments with loved ones at the shoe tree. The Nevada Commission on Tourism website even has the shoe tree as a site to visit along the Loneliest Road in America. Roadside America also promoted the tree as a stopping point. Let’s think about benefits to this tradition. A bright spot among a sea of tumble weeds and sage brush - there is beauty in the high desert, but after driving through hundreds of miles of it, a change is nice. The shoe tree attracted patrons to businesses in the town of Middlegate. This eccentric attraction could appeal to city dwellers and get them to look at the outdoors in a different way.
Let’s look at this from the other perspective – against man-made objects left in natural places once traditions are well underway. Some of the detrimental effects of a shoe tree could include an abnormal amount of weight on tree branches, habitat loss for wildlife, litter in a natural place, etc.
I’ll take a moment to share my personal thoughts; everyone is entitled to their opinion, but cutting down a tree is not proving a point and certainly not following outdoor ethics. A few productive ways to voice your opinion include petitions, scientific studies, and opinion pieces in local papers. On the other hand, there’s the possibility these culprits weren’t trying to prove a point and were just being reprehensible. Outdoor ethics is my job and my passion. I am an avid follower of pack it in, pack it out. However, a few eccentric landmarks can have value and I’ll admit, I’m a little bummed that I didn’t get a chance to throw my shoes into the tree; but you can bet I would have picked up any litter that wasn’t a shoe while I was there!
But that’s just my opinion, what do you think? Is it outdoor ethical to start a shoe tree? If you practice Leave No Trace or Tread Lightly would you add your shoes to an already-thriving shoe tree? If you are against shoe trees how would you voice your opinion? Should a new Middlegate Shoe tree be started? What is your outdoor ethics opinion on the Middlegate Shoe Tree? How many times can I say shoe tree in one paragraph?