It was the closest I’d ever come to a bear.
A buddy and I had just finished a day of paddling on Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park, way back in the summer of 2008.
On the way out of town, we slowed to a crawl to go around a few cars parked haphazardly on the road.
I thought it might have been an accident scene — but it was more like an accident waiting to happen.
The cars were hurriedly abandoned because their occupants were all outside on the pavement, edging toward the shoulder, eager to grab pictures of two bear cubs foraging in the ditch.
In no mood to be around when momma bear would eventually show up, we rolled up the windows and high-tailed it out of there before you could say boo.
You’ve probably read and heard of many more such irresponsible encounters over the years, the latest of which was reported last week in Banff National Park.
According to media reports, a Calgary-based wildlife photographer was left aghast as he witnessed 20 to 30 people standing too close to a grizzly, disregarding a request by a Parks official to disperse.
One particularly fearless visitor was recorded as he walked right up to the bear, within only a few metres of it, in apparent bid to snap a photo.
These people were clearly too close: Parks Canada advises visitors to stay at least 100 metres from such animals as bears, wolves and cougars.
Parks officials also expressed frustration last week after multiple instances of food being left unsecured at a concession stand at Lake Minnewanka in Banff, leading a bear to feed there.
“We spent a lot of time and effort last summer and this spring to make people know how to behave and we’re disappointed,” Parks Canada ecologist Jesse Whittington told Postmedia.
The long list of extraordinarily dumb interactions between humans and nature makes me question whether people understand what our national parks are for.
They are there to preserve and foster the wonders and beauty of our natural world.
People are meant to experience and appreciate those things from a distance.
Humans should be visitors to our parks in much more than the literal sense: Our natural spaces shouldn’t be any worse after we’ve gone through.
The already difficult act of balancing conservation with tourism has undoubtedly become more difficult for Parks Canada as an increasing number of Canadians are availing themselves of their national parks system.
Every park in our neck of the woods has seen growing annual attendance figures between 2011 and 2016.
There’s been double-digit growth at Elk Island (up 30%), Wood Buffalo (20%) and Waterton Lakes (16%).
More people are also going to Banff (up 8%), Kootenay (8%), Mount Revelstoke & Glacier (7%), Yoho (6%) and Jasper (5%).
Banff and Jasper continue to lead the way in sheer attendance numbers countrywide, with 3,894,332 and 2,266,072 respectively in 2015-16.
And with free entry to national parks this year to coincide with Canada 150 celebrations, those numbers are sure to remain healthy.
Sadly, the number of naughty people will likely be healthy, too.
Continued human misbehaviour bolsters the case of those who believe we should tighten access to our national parks.
Loss of access would be a shame, as seeing nature first-hand is a fantastic and unrivalled educational experience.
Of course, this only works if people are actually willing to learn.
And as the recent influx of stupidity shows, too many of us aren’t.
On Twitter: @RickyLeongYYC