The trail means many things to many people. Some like to hide from the everyday noise and get some much-needed peace and quiet. Some use that time to escape from the busyness of life and spend time with family and friends to create memories. And some enjoy a different scenery than the hustle and bustle of street cars and office buildings. But everyone agrees that being in nature is refreshing and necessary to refill one’s bucket.
But as the trail gives to us, we have to consider how we, too, can give back to the trail. Here are four ways you can give back and ensure the trails will continue to be around for future generations to enjoy.
1. Preserve and protect the trails
Weather and foot traffic can make a huge impact on trails. When you’re on a hike and anticipating the summit or upcoming epic views, it’s easy to make a quick beeline through the trails without much thought to its conditions. Or maybe your heart is set on a certain hike and you’ve convinced yourself not even rain or snow are going to keep you from your hike.
To lessen your impact, be attentive to the condition of the trail. If there’s a chance the trails will be muddy, wear shoes you won’t mind getting dirty. That way, instead of trying to avoid the mud by walking around it – causing the trail to widen unnecessarily – you can walk through the mud and not worry about ruining your favorite shoes. However, if the trail is too muddy and impassible, consider turning back and exploring other options like paved or gravel trails.
Stay on the trail and try not to cut through any vegetation and creating secondary trails. If you come upon a downed tree, try not to walk around it but rather climb over it. Take note of where the tree is and contact the office or group that is responsible for trail maintenance after your hike. And if a trail doesn’t allow dogs or bikes, don’t feel discouraged; just head to other nearby trails that are dog- and bike-friendly.
2. Pick up trash
No matter where you’re headed, there’s bound to be a piece of trash on the trail – whether it fell out of someone’s bag unknowingly or was left intentionally by others. For this reason, it’s always a good idea to keep extra plastic grocery bags with you in case you come across litter, then later you can toss it when you get to a trash can.
Your contribution to keeping trails clean can go even further than that by hosting cleanup hikes. Invite friends, family or the community to join you and make an official, special event of it. For additional info, check out the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace and learn how you can minimize your impact on trail.
3. Volunteer for trail maintenance
Making trails safe and accessible for everyone is a hard job that is often overlooked and underappreciated. Many times, trail maintenance is left to local volunteers to clear and maintain the trails, so sometimes a trail may be overgrown or have fallen trees across its path.
Volunteering your time to help clean up and maintain trails is a way to give back and leave your imprint on nature and in the community. Contact your local parks and rec department or check out the state and/or national parks websites for more information on how you can be a volunteer and contribute to making the outdoors accessible for everyone. Opportunities are endless and you’ll feel good about your contribution, whether it’s big or small.
4. Share the trails and teach others
And finally, you can give back to the trails by inviting others to join you on hikes and introduce the great outdoors to them. Or if they’ve never been on a hike or haven’t been on trail in awhile, it will remind them of the importance of making time to get away to appreciate what nature has to offer physically and mentally.
Should you invite friends with little to no experience hiking, give them a few pointers on how to enjoy the trails while respecting it (as mentioned above). The only way we can know is to be taught, and by teaching others the ways of the trail, you’re not just making a difference to that one person but to everyone that person will bring on trail in the future too. Plus, it’s always more fun with friends!
In doing your part to give back to nature for what it’s given you, you’re helping preserve these beautiful lands for decades to come.
What are some ways you give back to the trails? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
- Together we hike: trail cleanup with Hike it Baby and Deuter
- 5 Tips for trail cleanup safety
- Giving back – trail cleanup hikes
Photos by Krystal Weir.