I like to keep it positive around here, but every once in a while I encounter something on the trails that makes me downright angry.
Here’s the deal.
I believe that most of us try hard to be good stewards of the environment. We try to pack out our garbage, clean up after ourselves, reduce our impact and show some respect for Mother Nature and everyone else who plays in the great outdoors. It’s a few jerks out there wrecking it for everyone else. It always will be, and those jerks certainly aren’t going to read my blog and change their minds.
I’ve spent weeks thinking about how to write this post in a way that isn’t whiny. My goal is to bring up problems and then a few things that we can do to help educate and inform those in our own communities who might need a lesson on environmental responsibility.
Here we go, I’m stepping on my soap box.
Bags of dog poop on the side of the trail.
The first time I encountered a bag of dog poop on the side of the trail I picked up the bag, packed it out and just figured that maybe whoever left it there simply forgot about it.
But then more bags of dog poop kept appearing. Sometimes I’d collect up to 3 bags of poop on a 2-hour hike. I thought this was just a spring thing, you know, how garbage magically appears on the side of the trails once the snow melts? But no, It was not. I find bags of poop regardless of the season.
I thought that maybe bags of dog poop were just a problem on my local trails so I wrote this blog post for Just Trails. It kinda went crazy and I learned that jerks everywhere are bagging their dog’s poop and leaving it on the side of trails.
Someone, please tell me why you’d go to all the work to bag your dog’s poop just to bag it and leave it?
Unburied human fecal matter.
Have you ever been tromping through the woods looking for a place to dig a proper cat hole and stepped in, or narrowly avoided stepping in a pile of someone else’s shit? Seriously, it’s disgusting. I also hate it when I see a big unburied pile of poo with toilet paper hanging out of it. Really? I’m not sure what’s so hard about packing along a lightweight trowel and doing the right thing.
Cigarette butts are small, but they contain a lot of junk that is toxic and dangerous not just to humans but also wildlife and the environment. Not only that but we’ve seen huge forest fires throughout the west this summer. It’s believed that 9 out of 10 wildfires are caused by humans, something to think of before dropping that butt onto the ground. Plus, it’s just annoying packing out someone else’s disgusting cigarette butts.
Firepits with cans and bottles.
We went camping last weekend and when we arrived at our campsite right there in the firepit was a pile of broken beer bottles, aluminum foil and cans. This happens every single time we camp. Every. Single. Time. Seriously, why? I don’t get it. Is it because I live in a college town? I’m going to make a gross assumption here…the type of people who leave their trash in campfires are probably the same kind of people who don’t follow simple campfire safety procedures. If they left that firepit full of beer bottles did they also properly extinguish the campfire that didn’t burn said beer bottles? Probably not.
Carvings on trees.
Last autumn, my family took a day to drive to a famous place in the Sierra Madre Mountains near our home called Aspen Alley. I’d heard that the beauty of this area was amazing and that driving under the canopy of the aspens was breathtaking. But when we got there I was discouraged. All I saw were beautiful trees that had been scarred because some jerks had decided that it’s okay, fun and socially acceptable to carve their names into the trunks of the trees. Even my 2-year-old knows that it’s wrong to carve a tree!
Feeding wild animals.
I don’t know why people think they need to feed squirrels and chipmunks. This happens all the time, people think that it’s okay to throw a piece of food at wild animals near a campground or picnic area and not realize the impact that this one little act has on wildlife. Animals don’t need our junk food. Feeding them doesn’t do any good. There are so many reasons to keep our food to ourselves and our food trash picked up.
I believe that most people feed wildlife because they think it’s amusing. Others feed wildlife because they honestly believe that they are trying to help the animals. But deep down I think most just don’t know that it’s a bad thing to do.
Shooting holes in signs.
I think that every single sign in the Medicine Bow National Forest near my home in Laramie, Wyoming has been shot. Don’t get me wrong, I like to shoot and I’ll challenge you to a shoot-off with my .22 any day of the week. But, I like to shoot at targets, not signs that my taxes pay for.
If your local Forest Service District is anything like mine there is never enough funding and there are never enough people to actively take care of and manage the forest. So why on earth do people want to do rude things like use a Forest Service sign for target practice? Go, buy yourself a target, or set up a couple of pop cans–that you pack out later, of course.
But wait, there’s more.
I could go on about people off-roading and causing damage to precious vegetation. Jerks parking parallel at crowded trailheads instead of perpendicular and damage caused to trails when people hike around spring mud puddles instead of right through but it won’t do any good. We all know that those things are wrong.
So here’s the deal. Writing this blog post has made me frustrated and angry, it’s time to get positive and then go for a hike.
What can we do about it?
- Go public. When you see something someone did to be a jerk in the wilderness expose it! Take a photo of whatever they just destroyed, plaster it all over any personal or public social media sites you have and let your friends, family and anyone who follows you know your thoughts and feelings on why it’s important to take care of our wild spaces. I’m not saying to necessarily take a photo of the person themselves in the act but rather take a photo of a trash pile or scarred tree and then take that to social media with your outrage.
- Become an advocate. If you start to see trends on your local trails and campsites document them and then consider writing an editorial for your newspaper, starting an advocacy group, and leading a crusade against jackassery in your local community.
- Consider starting a trail clean-up day. Partner up with a few outdoor gear shops, your local Forest Service office or State Parks and other outdoor recreation groups in your community and schedule a trail clean-up day. You can seek out some local press to help spread the message about keeping our wild spaces beautiful.
- Educate. Do you write a blog? Consider writing a few posts about stewardship (and then let me know so I can link back to them here.) Are you a teacher? Try to incorporate a few lessons or even field trips into nature into your curriculum to teach students the importance of taking care of the environment. There are so many things we can do to educate one another.
- Raise your kids to love Mother Earth. I believe that we protect what we love. Get those children into nature so they can learn more about our beautiful world. The more they learn the more they will love and the more they will want to protect. I worry about what the next generation will do to our wild spaces if they don’t grow up immersed in them.
- Set a good example. I don’t always want to pick up other people’s trash. I don’t always have the courage to tell someone to stop feeding the chipmunks. I’m not going to walk up to someone taking a dump in the woods and ask to see their trowel or even approach a person with a machete trying to carve their name into the bark of an aspen tree. But, I do always hike with a garbage bag and I’m going to try to set a better example by having the courage to step out of my comfort zone and approach someone with the heart of a teacher when I see them doing something I disagree with.
Now it’s your turn. What is your biggest outdoor pet peeve and what can we do about it?
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