Over the last few years, there has been a resurgence in people finding peace in our outdoor spaces.
12 billion visitors to our public lands in 2017 and the numbers for 2018 looks to surpass that.
Our world of constant contact has people seeking beautiful places to disconnect with the world
and reconnect with themselves.
Scientific research proves time in nature is overwhelmingly restorative
and contributes to good mental, emotional and physical health.
It is a great feeling to see families outside and enjoying nature.
However, the places we are visiting are suffering at our expense and,
in some places, the damage is irreparable.
Organizations such as Leave No Trace Center do their best to help educate the new masses
but don’t have the funding capabilities to educate
the ever-growing population finding themselves outdoor.
So, what can we do to help protect the places we love while still enjoying them?
These 5 tips will help you hit the trail responsibly.
1. Stick to the Trail
Trail systems have been exhaustively designed to support and protect the surrounding habitat and also provide visitor’s access to the area. Switchbacks, for instance, are designed to allow water to run off the trail and not straight downhill which would cause erosion and deep ruts along the hillside. Cutting a switchback is not only causing the immediate erosion, it is the beginning of a much bigger issue. The problem of erosion rises with all social trails, a trail that is not an official marked trail. Creating more human-powered erosion leads directly to more natural erosion and over time, our beautiful places cannot recover. This causes trails to be rerouted and even closed. One of the biggest problems by users creating “social” trails, or a trail that is not an official marked trail, is safety. Marked trails are maintained and mapped for visitor safety. If you get lost on a marked trail, help will arrive much more quickly than an unmarked social trail. Even if the path in front of you is muddy or wet, do not make a new path around. Make yourself familiar with Leave No Trace Principle #2 – Travel and Camp on durable surfaces. Another reason for an increase in social trails is getting “the shot”. Pay attention to signage and stay on trail. There might be a very important reason why there is not a path to the base of a waterfall or specific area. No photo is worth the destruction of a natural place. We go to nature to enjoy it, not destroy it.
2. Don’t Be Trashy
One of the biggest issues facing our public lands is litter. From cigarette butts to dog poop bags to diapers and more, it’s hard to hit the trail without stumbling across something that doesn’t belong. A simple phrase to remember- pack it in, pack it out. This sounds pretty simple. Whatever you bring with you, snacks and water bottle for example, needs to leave with you too. This includes wrappers, fruit peels, and all food scraps. You can pack a Ziploc bag for your wrappers and scraps or a bigger bag depending on the length of your trip. If you are in bear country, be sure to follow all regulations for food and food waste. Yes, food waste is litter. Most of the fruits eaten on trail aren’t native to the areas we are exploring and therefore can be harmful to the animals that may eat them. Orange peels can take up to six months to decompose. Banana Peels can take almost two years!! This goes for apple cores too. This leads in to our next tip.
3. Keep Wildlife Wild
Number three seems like common sense but it’s increasingly become a problem in many national parks and other wilderness areas. Animals such as bears and mountain lions are being put down because they have become so accustomed to human food scraps or being deliberately fed. They have become aggressive or have lost their survival instincts to a degree because of their new-found food supply. That photo of you feeding a gray jay eating out of your hand may look cool and get you a bunch of likes, but you are setting in motion a possible chain reaction that could cost that bird its life. Please observe and respectfully keep your distance from wildlife not only for your safety, but for the animal’s safety as well.
4. Be Prepared
This could be a post in itself. The 10 essentials are the best checklist for preparation. It is a great checklist for making sure you have everything you need before you hit the trails, even for a day hike. REI has a very detailed breakdown of the 10 Essentials. You can find it here. By being prepared, you maximize your safety on trail. Research your route before you hit the trail and tell at least one other person your plan, especially if hiking solo. Pay attention to area-specific rules or regulations. Adequate water and food can be life-saving in a situation where you find yourself lost.
5. PooPoo- Your Dog and You!
Do you know what to do when you have to go #2? Is it okay to leave your dog’s poo? For humans, Leave No Trace principles ask that you go 200 feet away (70 adult steps, 100 for children) from water, camp and trails and dig a cat hole 6-8 inches deep. Yes, dig a hole to poop in. Plan ahead to pack out your toilet paper in a sealed bag. If that is not possible, use as little toilet paper as possible place it in the cat hole with your human waste and bury. Pick up your dog’s poop with your doogy-doo bags and PACK IT OUT. But isn’t dog poop the same as the rest of the animal poop in the woods? Unfortunately, no. Most dog food contains lots of fillers and other things that are not native to the environment and can be detrimental to the wildlife and vegetation. Dog poop can contain E. coli, Giardia, worms, pharmaceuticals, as well as several billion fecal coliform bacteria. Diseases, such as Parvovirus, can spread through dog poop and can pollute the soil we wander on and the water we drink.
Pro tip: Get your dog a pack of their own and they can carry it. If you absolutely have to, you can follow the same principle as human poop by burying it in a cat hole but removing it from the environment is the best choice.
I hope these tips help you to enjoy your time on trail.
The places we love to visit are beautiful, wild, and natural.
Let’s make sure we help to keep them that way by being responsible when we get outdoors and protecting the places we love for years to come.
Hello! I’m Britany, a part-time solo traveler and public lands advocate who calls Ohio home. I am lucky enough to live in the Hocking Hills region of Southern Ohio with my wife and our six adventure dogs. Yes, six. I run the blog Britany’s Adventures in Wanderland and I am the founder of the 11th Essential outdoor stewardship initiative. I was blessed to be raised in our state parks and to have been taught the importance of the outdoors, most importantly, how to respect the. I love to convert my SUV to a home on wheels and hit the road to explore places near and far. When I am not on the road, I am a marketing coordinator for a career and technical center. I’m looking forward to the New Year and new travels with all of my WanderBabes.