It’s the weekend so you lace up your hiking boots and find your way to your favorite trail. With your backpack, water bottle, and first aid kit in tow, you soon begin your walk with nature. Loose gravel and dirt crunch beneath your feet as you leave your worries from the outside world behind. You find yourself feeling more relaxed with each step you take and the further you immerse yourself into the great outdoors.
Then you head up a switchback and see something out of place from the corner of your eye: the empty wrapper of a protein bar. Do you proceed forward without a care in the world–after all, you weren’t the one who left trash behind. Or do you, out of instinct, grab the wrapper and stash it in the pocket of your shorts until you find a trash can. If you go with the first option, you may find yourself filled with regret for looking past bad behavior. Unfortunately, this has become a trend in the great outdoors–leaving behind our trash. Greg Soderlund, longtime race director of the Western States Endurance Run, spoke out about littering on hiking trails and on the roads saying, “Littering isn’t acceptable in either venue but the new trail runners may not have the same respect and appreciation of the trails as the veterans do.”
Whether you’re guilty of leaving behind a few pieces of trash on a trail or make a conservative effort to avoid doing so, here are five reasons to pick up trash overtime you take a hike
“Trail runners should understand that running on State Park trails is a privilege and we all need to pitch in and take responsibility and clean up after ourselves,” says Julie Fingar, American River 50 Mile Endurance Run RD. “Everyone, novice or veteran can benefit from hearing the message, ‘Pack it in, pack it out.”
If we truly love hiking and want to have continued access to these beautiful trails we walk, hike and run on, we need to take care of them. As Fingar said: Pack it in, pack it out. If you drop something, stop and pick it up. Be responsible for your entire group and hold each individual accountable. If you see that a member of your group has accidentally dropped something, tell them – or just pick it up yourself. Keep nature beautiful.
Would you want to walk on a trail filled with empty water bottles and crumpled pieces of trash? The answer to this is likely no. Be the change you wish to see in the world and set the example for your children, hiking partner, or even future hikers to come and pick up any pieces of trash you see. Make your travel route look like nobody was ever there and leave it in its original condition. Like some females, I worry about unsanitary conditions and that includes picking up someone else’s trash. However, when you’re in the great outdoors, it’s already difficult enough as it is to stay clean. Picking up a trash wrapper won’t leave you feeling any dirtier.
Birds, mammals, and reptiles can be injured or even killed by the trash we leave behind on the trails. Because some types of litter do not readily disintegrate, it can remain in the environment as a threat for decades. Litter threatens wildlife in a number of ways. Broken glass can cut the feet of animals and present a hazard to various smaller animals. Lizards often crawl inside bottles or cans to bask in the warm interior, to seek protection, or in search of food; but they may find it difficult to squeeze out again or can die from overheating. Your food scraps aren’t helping wildlife either. Deer, for instance, love breads and sweets. These purified grain products may form gummy masses in the stomachs of ruminants and interfere with digestion. What’s more, the wild animals will become accustomed to free handouts and be unprepared to hunt for themselves when their human food source is cut out.
There is nothing more disheartening than coming across deliberate litter – meaning trash that people leave in the wilderness with no intention of packing out. I’ve come across it all: cigarette butts, beer bottles, shoes, socks, t-shirts, baby diapers, and dog poop bags just to name a few. Instead of getting angry when you encounter this type of disrespect, try looking at it from a positive angle. This is an opportunity to teach the future hiking generation about environmental stewardship as you pick up and pack out garbage left behind together. Not only will your kids learn how to respect nature, it can also be an opportunity to teach your children practical life skills such as tidying up the house.
Picking up trash doesn’t have to be a chore. Instead make it an adventure by participating in a Cache In Trash Out® event. For the past 13 years, geocachers worldwide have celebrated International Cache In Trash Out weekend by hosting and participating in Cache In Trash Out(CITO) events in their local area. But this doesn’t have to happen just once a year. You can easily make this happen on every geocache adventure. Simply bring a trash bag along with you on your walks in the woods and pick up the occasional piece of trash you see on the hiking trail. You’ll have fun finding the hidden geocache treasure while also saving the environment.