I love to hit the trails whether I'm going for a simple stroll to get some fresh air, a backpacking trip, or finding a strenuous trail to do some physical training for upcoming mountaineering climbs. Regardless of why I hit the trail, I realized years ago the outdoors offered so many health benefits. It has helped with my depression, provides me with a great cardiovascular workout, and has helped me put my life into perspective, meaning letting go of unnecessary stressors in my life.
Over the years social media has made getting outdoors a favorite past time, which means people are taking to outdoor activities, which is great! But with more people exploring the great outdoors, I can't help but notice more and more unwanted items lying about, especially on trails that are popular and easily accessible.
I feel like I've seen it all, candy wrappers, empty plastic water bottles, hair ties, socks, underwear, dog poop bags that are full and tied up for the poop fairy to pick up (there isn't one), and guess what else? New and used tampons and condoms! Yep, that's right!
With that said, in the beginning about two years ago, when I saw an empty chip bag I would get upset and allow it to ruin my walk for a few hot minutes. Then slowly over time, when Instagram inspired people to get outdoors and experience everything that nature has to offer, more pieces of trash started to show up. This increase of waste left behind on the trails removed my enjoyment of being outdoors because I would get consumed with frustration and anger on why some people can be insensitive and careless.
Trash doesn't just look aesthetically displeasing, but it also harms delicate biomes—causing more harm than many people realize.
Even those banana peels, apple cores, seed shells, orange peels, and all other "biodegradable" matter should not get left on trails. Yes, it biodegrades, but it's a slow process and much much slower in freezing conditions. It also makes animals more reliant on humans for food, disrupting their way of life—making them aggressive and losing their natural instincts.
As I walked over these items, filled with bitterness, I realized I was in no way helping the cause. I needed to do something about it rather than complaining. But how? I can't follow people around playing trash patrol and lecture anyone who leaves anything but footprints behind. Although, I would love to, but then that would be a waste of my time and plain creepy!
Instead, I decided I was going to bring a grocery bag and rubber gloves with me on trails. I don't go out looking for trash, but instead, take two seconds out of my walk to merely pick up something that was out of place. So, when I see a candy wrapper or empty water bottle, I would just pick it up and put it in the grocery bag and throw it away or recycle it when I either got home or found a trash can in the parking lot.
This minor inconvenience during my walks made me feel better about things. Instead of festering about the lack of respect and the ever-increasing trash on the trails, I would simply pick it up throw it in my trash bag, and move on, both physically and mentally. Plus, I feel good, knowing that I'm saving the planet! Ok, maybe not saving the planet, but I do feel better knowing I'm being a good Samaritan. I may not always have time to volunteer, but this, this I can do. And those soda cans and beer bottles that I pick up go towards my collection of cans at home—meaning those bad boys get recycled and I get a monetary reward, a small one, but a reward in cash nonetheless.
I don't love the idea of needing to pick up people's trash. But I do feel like it's the least I can do in the grand scheme of things. I profoundly enjoy the outdoors and want to help preserve its beauty. But don't get me wrong. I'm no saint. I don't know about you, but those used tampons, condoms, and dog poop bags is where I draw the line. I know some brave souls out there who have done and are willing to do the job, a huge kudos to them—although no one should have to do that in the first place.
But wait! "…don't park rangers pick up trash, it's their job, right?" The simple answer is NO! Maintaining access to trails so that we may enjoy them is higher on their priority list than picking up trash. Funding doesn't trickle down very far in this industry, meaning their duties are often spread out too thin with too few resources to carry them out.
Overall, I'm happy with doing my part. Some days I most certainly can do better because it can be easy for me to walk over a gum wrapper, feel angry and then forget about it and move on with my day. I definitely have to make a conscious effort to pick it up. But in the end, when I get home I feel pretty content with my effort, even if it's a small one and no one knows about it but me. Although, future nature enthusiasts probably enjoy a well-kept trash free trail as much as I do!