Living in Phoenix, I’ve got hundreds of miles of desert hiking and biking trails within the expansive Metro Area. Even more extensive trail systems await in the county parks just outside of town. These public parks provide easy access for trail lovers, like myself, to escape the pavement and feel the crunch of the desert under our feet. Many of our more popular hiking trails can see more than half a million hikers per year. But whether it’s an inner-city trail or a remote backcountry trail, the one thing they usually have in common is litter.
Typical trail trash comes from a variety of sources. Casual trail users will carelessly ditch empty water bottles, snack wrappers and tissue along the path. Bottles, cans and cigarette butts offer evidence of after-hours use in these areas. Sometimes newspaper, plastic bags or food wrappers are blown in by wind or scavenged by wildlife. Even good-intentioned trail users can accidentally lose trash from open pockets and packs.
Ultimately, we’re all responsible for the trash that finds its way to our trails.
There are several things I do on the trail to insure that I am more a part of the solution than the problem. Primarily, I make a habit out of picking up at least one piece of trash from the trail every time I go out. On cleaner trails this can be a challenge, but I am always able to find something. If every person who visits a trail does just that, trail litter would be a thing of the past.
Litter is dangerous for the environment, it’s costly to the community and it’s ugly. We should all be able to show respect for the outdoors, respect for ourselves and respect for each other by keeping our trails clean and beautiful. Below are five super simple things anyone can do to help keep our public trails litter-free.
5 Things anyone can do to reduce trail litter
1. Do not litter.
I know this one is simple and shouldn’t need to be said, but people still do it. According to a 2012 study, the average amount of steps a person will hold a piece of trash before they litter is 12 paces. Wearing a small pack to carry your trash out or stuffing those pockets on your cargo shorts will get you past those 12 paces. Most established trailheads will have a trash can for you when you finish your hike. My dad was an early adopter of Leave No Trace policies and I always remember him telling my brother and I, “you pack it in, you pack it out.”
2. If you find trash, pick it up.
Once, after climbing down a steep ledge to retrieve some empty bottles a woman said to me, “Why didn’t you just leave it? You shouldn’t have to pick up other people’s trash.” 75% of Americans admit to littering within the last 5 years. Chances are someone else has had to pick up after you at some point. The fact is keeping our trails clean is everyone’s responsibility. We all need to do our part as trail users to keep litter off our trails.
3. Teach others not to litter.
One of the top reasons given for why people litter is “ignorance”. People who are aware of the dangers of litter often make more of an effort to always put their trash in the correct place. The easiest way to teach people is to lead by example. I make a point of picking up trash in front of others so they can learn to take action. Show your friends, your relatives and especially your children how to dispose of trash properly and keep it off the trail.
4. Volunteer for Trail Cleanup events.
Many local communities have trail cleanup and maintenance events throughout the year. Your favorite local trail group or parks conservancy should have a calendar of volunteer opportunities. Often, local outdoor stores organize volunteer cleanup events that are open to the public and support local trail maintenance. The first Saturday in June is National Trails Day and there are always trail cleanup events scheduled that weekend. With a little searching, you can find an event near you.
5. Donate to organizations that sponsor Trail Cleanups.
Major organizations like the National Parks Association, the Sierra Club and the Boy Scouts of America all support local and national trail systems including maintenance and cleanup. If you cannot volunteer your time, you can support these organizations and their trail maintenance efforts financially. Look for programs in your area.
How has trail litter impacted your enjoyment of the outdoors? What do you do to keep your local trails clean and beautiful?
Photo: Dave Creech
Dave Creech is a successful business owner and entrepreneur based in Phoenix, Arizona. He shares his personal story, lifelong passion for travel and rugged outdoor adventure through his blog at WildernessDave.com. David’s focus has been on trip stories, gear reviews, Wilderness Medicine and a series of articles aimed at introducing Yoga to hikers and backpackers as a path to staying fit, healthy and injury free.
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