Littering and vandalism in the woods has likely been going on forever. However, with the sheer number of people using our natural spaces, the trails are seeing these "bad seeds" more frequently than they used to and it's showing.
Sometimes the vandalism is obvious and visible, both where it lie and on social media. For example, take the case of Casey Nocket/Creepytings last year. She decided to paint "art" on rocks in several National Parks and brag about it on Instagram. There are little things that go on every day, seemingly unnoticed, that have an even greater environmental impact than painting on a rock or etching names into a handrail though.
I am talking about litter. I went hiking on one of the most accessible and gorgeous trails in the Seattle area the other day. Guessing by the 100 or so people I passed on the trail, it could see close to 1,000 people a week in the summer. I also experienced one of the most horrific cases of litter on a "wilderness trail" I had ever seen.
I picked up 6 pieces of trash that day and there were at least as many I couldn't get to because of safety concerns or because I worried that I would significantly damage the environment doing so. These weren't just things that accidentally blew out of a pocket or backpack. I am talking about empty plastic bottles tossed 50 feet down a slope or tucked in a tree hole. I am also talking about dog poop bags.
First, I don't get people who don't pick up their pet's waste. It's not "natural". Or rather, it is not natural in the quantities potentially left on popular dog-friendly trails that can see 100s of dogs a week. The environment can't keep up with that kind of load (pun intended). But you know what I really don't get? People who take the effort to pick up their dog poop and then leave it on the side of the trail.
Now, I am a dog owner. I can see one of the potential reasons. Many people probably find tucking the bag inside their pack and carrying it with them icky. They would rather leave it on the side of the trail and pick it up on their way back down. Many do, I am sure. However, many don't.
People get talking with their friends, or get tired, or get whatever, and forget to pick it up on their return to the trailhead. You can spot those bags easily. Instead of sitting there in pristine condition waiting for their owner's to pick them up, they are weathered, sometimes smashed, and pushed off the edge of the trail. Although I understand, there is no excuse in my book. If you can't remember to pick it up then you should carry it with you.
What is clearly not an accident though is the poop bag tossed up the slope about 5 feet. What exactly are these people thinking? No, I mean really...what are they thinking? I have no clue.
Not everyone has a strong stomach like me, but I pick up all of the poop bags I see, regardless if they look like they are waiting for their owner or not. I don't want them to be forgotten. I say that because the one time I left a bag on the side of the trail, I forgot it myself. It's an easy thing to do.
Picking up other people's dog poop and tissues is not as disgusting or risky as it seems. As a dog owner, I am always armed with my own poop bags. I turn a bag inside out and use it as a glove so I don't even have to touch the germiest of trash. Then I stuff it inside a Ziplock bag and put that in my pack. That way the trash doesn't smell or touch other things. The system is simple and it works.
Don't get me wrong, I love this new movement of hiking as fitness and seeing more and more people get out to enjoy our natural spaces. Unfortunately, if people don't take care of our lands and fragile environment, they may not be there in the future â?? at least not in the enjoyable state that causes people flock to them today.
What do you think about trash on the trail? Have you also noticed an increase? What would you do if you saw someone littering or vandalizing something?
Don't Trash Our Trails
By Jessica Rhae Williams
May 18, 2015
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