So if you don’t know me, let me start off this post by saying that I’ve never really been the type of person to obsess over issues like conservation, recycling, or saving the planet. I’ve always loved the outdoors and have done my best to be a good citizen of this earth, but I also never really made it a point to talk about it, advocate, or become very engaged in conservation efforts.
But something has changed since starting our travels in February. Since I now spend most of my time in nature, I have a whole new perspective on how people treat this planet. I have to say that over the past few months I have been appalled at how some people treat the outdoors. I want to believe that people are good. I have so many wonderful friends and family members and meet incredible people every day either on the road or through social media. There are so many amazing people in this world who are considerate, kind, and respectful! However, I can’t stop myself from seeing how some people treat the wilderness with indifference and disrespect. I really don’t know if they are being malicious or are just completely oblivious. I try to see the best in others, but I have seen so many things that completely frustrate me.
I have been talking in generalities, but I want to point out a handful of specific examples that I have witnessed just in the past 2.5 months to show exactly what I mean.
- In Arches National Park I witnessed many children and adults walking and running off the trails, trampling all over delicate plants and rock formations, despite a multitude of signs saying to stay on the established trails.
- Also in Arches National Park, right near the signs talking about how the dark crusty sections of dirt are actually cryptobiotic soil aka “living soil” and not to step on it, I saw several distinct footprints in the dark crust described in the signs.
- In Canyonlands National Park, right near the sign saying not to walk on the arches, we witnessed someone walk across Mesa Arch.
- In the Dixie National Forest where we were camping near Bryce Canyon we found a huge trash bag in the woods full of a deflated air mattress and multiple empty vodka and beer bottles.
- In Santa Fe National Forest (and almost every wild campsite we have stayed in) there have been an excessive number of bottle caps and cigarette butts strewn about the forest floor.
- We often find “bathrooms” in the forest or just off of a trail where people leave piles of dirty toilet paper.
- In Kaibab National Forest, we found a firepit full of empty plastic cups and wrappers from a fast food restaurant as well as tons of shotgun shells lying about.
- At the trailhead for Diamond Fork/Fifth Water Hot Springs (where there were many clear signs that there is no trash pickup so don’t leave any trash) we found piles and piles of garbage including an entire crushed bottle of Sweet Baby Rays BBQ Sauce in the parking lot and empty coffee cups and a partially eaten quiche in the bathroom.
- On many hikes, including several in Arches National Park, we have seen orange peels and apple cores dropped directly on the trail or right on the side of the trail.
- At Bryce National Canyon, we saw rotten bananas right along side the beautiful canyon.
- At the remote and beautiful Spooky slot canyon, we saw obnoxious messages written on or scratched into the textured, delicate sandy walls.
At each park, hiking trail, and campsite we visit, Steve and I make a point to spend time picking up other peoples’ trash. It’s annoying. It’s gross. But I can’t walk by garbage in the beautiful outdoors and not do something. I know that accidents happen from time to time. You reach into your pack to pull out a granola bar, and a loose tissue floats out without you noticing. It happens. But what we are seeing is much more prevalent and blatant.
Picking up trash is pretty easy (albeit kind of disgusting) but what else can I do to help out? Should I speak up to those people walking off the trail, trampling wildlife, or watching their children run through cryptobiotic soil? I haven’t really worked up the courage to speak to others, not wanting to come across as rude, but more and more I am feeling like maybe it is my place to say something. If not me, then who? This beautiful and delicate landscape will only remain beautiful if we treat it right. I am trying to learn more about proper wilderness etiquette and Leave No Trace, hoping that increased knowledge and confidence will help guide me in how I should react when I see something wrong.
As Earth Day approaches, I am sure there will be many efforts to remind us to take care of nature and be kind to Mother Earth. For the first time in my life, I feel truly invested in this. The wilderness is my home right now, and I can’t stand watching other people trash it. I know that platforms like Instagram popularize beautiful places and drives large numbers of people to once secret or lesser-known spots. While getting more people outdoors can be a great thing, it can quickly turn terrible when people are leaving trash, adding graffiti, or destroying wildlife in these areas. Therefore I am hoping to use my voice on social media to help promote good outdoor habits and a respectful mindset toward nature to help avoid some of the horrible scenes I have found in the wild.
So what I am asking of all of you is:
- “Pack in, pack out” and “leave no trace”. This includes food that you bring with you (even fruit!) and toilet paper.
- Stay on the trails! Try to minimize your impact, especially in parks with delicate vegetation, soil, and rock formations.
- Read and follow the signs! Park rangers and staff are smart and educated people – trust that if they thought something was worthy of a sign, then you should read it and follow it!
I hope everyone has an amazing Earth Month/Week/Day and I hope you are able to enjoy some of the beautiful nature out there!
To keep up the inspiration, feel free to email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or DM me (@carrieoutdoors) some photos or stories of you respecting this earth or ways that you have worked to make this planet more clean and beautiful! Whether it’s picking up trash, walking on trails, or being less wasteful, I’d love to feature some of your pictures or words on my Instagram stories!
Here are some great resources to learn about more ways to Leave No Trace and respect our planet!
- Leave No Trace organization
- REI Leave No Trace Principals
- 29 critical “Leave No Trace” tips for wilderness visitors
- Dirtbag Darling
- Leave No Trace Over Likes