Call yourself an environmentalist? Here’s 8 things you may be doing wrong.
1) Cutting switchbacks
I can’t tell you how many times I used to cut switchbacks as a kid. Now that I’m an adult, it’s easy to understand their importance to trail systems: switchbacks are our friends, not our enemies. When you cut a switchback, you’re not only majorly contributing to trail erosion, but you’re damaging the foliage that could potentially thrive in that area just off-trail. Do the trail a favor and respect its winding ways. Plus when you get to the top responsibly, you get to celebrate with a sound conscience.
2) Burning trash in campfires
I’m sure everyone reading this has found a few trashy campfire rings they weren’t too fond of at some point in time. Why? Because people LOVE to throw garbage into their fires without thinking of the consequences. Most trash that’s thrown into campfires doesn’t even burn! If you’re having a campfire, make sure your tin foil, plastic packaging, cigarette butts, etc. stay in your “pack-out” trash bag. The environment, and everyone who will eventually stumble across and/or use your fire ring, will thank you.
3) Leaving “biodegradables” on the mountain
Unfortunately, many hikers seem to think that pistachio shells, orange peels, banana peels, sunflower seeds, and whatever other leftovers they’re throwing on the ground will magically disappear. Realistically, these non-native pieces of ‘organic litter’ just don’t belong. If you truly care about the environment, it shouldn’t be an issue to simply pack out what you brought in.
4) Feeding the wildlife
Tying into the aforementioned topic, leaving ‘organic litter’ on the forest floor just isn’t fair for wildlife. They think it’s food- and it’s not food they should be eating! Ever heard of “A Fed Bear is a Dead Bear?” You can do your part in protecting native wildlife by not giving them a reason to approach humans/campsites. Keep your food to yourselves, fellow nature-lovers!
5) Turn your phone off!
Being plugged in isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Try taking a hike sometime without using your phone- you’ll quickly find out that it’s pretty liberating. You’ll be completely at one with nature and you’ll probably notice things you never would have if you were on your phone. If you’re a photographer, maybe leave your camera at home for a hike or two and feel what it’s like to fully absorb the beauty of your surroundings.
6) Camp at least 200’ from water
The second principle of Leave No Trace is to “travel and camp on durable surfaces.” Most people aren’t aware of the further reading of this principle, which states that in order to protect riparian areas, you’ve got to camp at least 200 feet from water. It’s incredibly important to let these fragile aquatic communities have their alone-time, so please, take a step back and respect your surroundings! The best views are further back from the water, anyway.
7) Take care of your waste
This topic seems to be the most ignored topic of all, and for good reason: nobody wants to talk about how they manage their waste. Backpackers are pretty open about it though, and it’s because they know how to dispose of it properly. Do your research- does the area you’re in require wag bags? Does it require burying waste 6” deep? Does it require that you pack out tp? Make sure to take care of your business at least 200’ from water for obvious reasons. Also, do yourself a favor: bring a shovel or a trowel (you’ll need it). You don’t want wildlife feeding on your waste and getting sick now, do you?
8) Inspire others to get out
If you’re not already spreading the word about how incredible nature is, get on it! Help people plan their trips, give them advice, teach them your hiking tips. If you’re into flora & fauna, point out the interesting plants, animals, anything that might spark someone’s flame for the outdoors. Most importantly, make sure you educate others about the importance of respecting the outdoors. It’s our duty as environmentalists to speak for the trees. What will you say?