I’m freshly back from taking a much-anticipated two week road trip. My partner and I spent most of those two weeks driving, hiking, camping and exploring new places. We covered a lot of ground and had a number of diverse experiences. In all those miles of hiking, one theme kept coming up again and again.
That theme? The responsibility of hikers to know and practice Leave No Trace principles.
On nearly every hike we did, I observed violations of these principles pretty regularly. People carving their names into rocks and trees. Trash littering the sides of the trail. Toilet paper, and worse, a big pile of human poop not more than a foot off the trail. The remains of poorly placed campfires. Footprints in cryptobiotic soil. And there were things we could not observe: geological features and artifacts that had been taken out of the environment by past looters and trophy-collectors.
When I’m out enjoying a hike I try really hard not to let my thoughts focus on negative things that bum me out. But some of these experiences really bummed me out. Who poops on the trail!? How would you not KNOW that is not an okay thing to do? And I was shocked by how much graffiti there was: on rocks, trees, signs, literally anything something could paint, carve or ink up had someone’s name on it. So weird. It would seem that in the age of social media, leaving one’s mark on a place would be a thing of the past. You can easily take a picture and share it worldwide within seconds. And yet, graffiti doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.
It is therefore going to be a recurring theme of this blog, for the next few weeks at least, to focus on each principle of Leave No Trace. My goal is to identify the principle, explain why it matters and then offer practical ways to put that principle into practice. I hope that in my heart no one means to do the environment or other people wrong, and with the right education and practice that we can all learn to share these special places with each other, leaving the land as we found it.
Or better. We picked up trash on almost every hike and we cleaned up every messy dispersed campsite we stayed at (they were all littered with trash). On hikes I only sometimes remembered to carry a little trash bag. Other times we shoved trash into outside mesh pockets of backpacks or into our pants pockets. At camp it was much easier to walk around with a bag and toss away all the garbage before we set up our things.
I am glad that so many people are excited to get out and experience the wonders of our natural world. The next step is to advance the notion of being a responsible hiker and a good steward of the land. I’ll start by writing blog posts and sharing more insights in the Instagram feed, but I have a feeling it’s going to get bigger than that. Stay tuned, and share your ideas about how you think we can all be a little better to preserving our land and being mindful of each other’s experiences outdoors.