La Sportiva believes in minimizing our impact. Follow these tips on cleaning up our outdoor spaces.
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As a team of two living in a van, we are in the unique situation of watching our environment change on a daily basis. We see the trees slowly bud and then suddenly burst with leaves, we watch the snow line crawl toward the summit as the sunlight lasts a little longer each day, and we see the impact that even just a night of camping in the wilderness can cause. In recent years, especially in outdoor destination states like Colorado, National Forests are reporting an increase in trash left at campsites and along trails. The good news is that use of our National Forests and public lands is at an all time high! More people getting outside and appreciating the nation’s diverse landscapes means more people who can work to preserve our natural spaces. Still, the rise in outdoor traffic comes with a price. With increased use, comes increased trash.
This spring while traveling up and down the East Coast, we couldn't help but notice the amount of trash abandoned in dispersed camping areas. Empty beer cans, oil pans, even a mattress, littered the banks of the picturesque creeks we parked our van beside. We took the advice from local friends who always travel with extra trash bags when they hike in their backyard, Pisgah National Forest. They see the problem every day and are actively doing their part to help keep their slice of nature clean. In South Carolina's Francis Marion and Sumpter National Forests, volunteers consistently remove thirty to forty tons of trash each year. According to Jim Evanoff, environmental protection specialist for Yellowstone National Park, America’s first national park spends half a million dollars annually to remove 3,000 tons of trash that is left in the park each year.
With the threat of forest service funding being cut, the amount of resources being allocated to trash mitigation are also in danger. The NFS does not have employees dedicated to solely cleaning up after those who don't clean up after themselves. We believe fully in the cliché phrase “leave it better than you found it”. Lucky for us, being low impact in a van is easy; pull up to a site, jump in the back, pull the shades, and you’re set. Even so, we always travel with a few extra trash bags and gloves in case someone decided to leave their trash at a trailhead, or was too exhausted on the summit to stick their granola bar wrapper in their pocket... And sometimes people drop trash and don't even know it. Trash in our wild lands isn't a “you” problem or a “me” problem, it's a “human” problem. If everyone who enjoyed a day out in nature left it better than they found it, than our National Forests would be in great shape.
If you think this is as big of a problem as we do, we encourage you to be proactive. There are a ton of devoted outdoor enthusiasts like us and our friends at La Sportiva who help to do their part every single day. It's as easy as picking up a wrapper that catches your eye during an evening hike. Before we began touring for Blue Ridge Outdoors and Elevation Outdoors, we were completely intimidated by the thought of joining a river clean up. Leading one was out of the question. Showing up to an event where you may not know anyone, or know what to do, without the right supplies, can be enough to scare off even the most outgoing from participating. But rest assured- we now know from experience that it’s easy, fun and highly rewarding! Read on for concrete advice on how to participate, or even lead, in your community to “leave it better than you found it.”
Leave No Trace is a great place to start. Built on seven sustainability principles that are straightforward and easy to follow, LNT has a “Get Involved” tab on their website that breaks organizations down state by state making it straightforward to find something local as a starting point. They also offer online training courses that can make any newbie a master at enjoying the outdoors without harmful impact.
Don’t want to cold call an organization? Try stepping into your local outdoor outfitters and asking them if they’d be interested in organizing a cleanup. Often outdoor focused retailers and outfitters are like minded in their focus on preserving the environment they enjoy. They may have the resources to help you get a cleanup started. We have personally paired with Rocky Mountain Anglers in Boulder, CO and Rockfish Gap Outfitters in Waynesboro, VA. Both were happy to partner with us and we can speak personally to their enthusiasm and appreciation.
Getting involved CAN be as easy as showing up to a cleanup that's already being organized. This map (regularly updated by American Rivers) shows upcoming cleanups for waterways across the United States. States like Colorado have launched entire websites and mobile apps to help people find opportunities to give back, including trash cleanups. It isn't always easy to find cleanup efforts in your area but we stumbled across this site, a small, grassroots organization making a big difference in Woodland Park, CO from a simple Google seach.
Focus on the Forest is a “volunteer organization… that has a mission to keep the Colorado forest and campground areas clean and healthy.” The group was founded by Shawn Nielsen, “an avid outdoors man, who was disappointed to see the forest and campground areas he loves so much being littered and no one caring to remove the garbage left behind in the forest, campgrounds, rifle ranges, and wildlife refuges.”
If you’re interested in starting a clean up yourself, first identify which jurisdiction the clean up will be in- public lands, state owned, etc., and start your research there. If you don’t mind making a quick phone call or stopping in to your local NFS Ranger Station, the rangers will be more than happy to give you information on how you can best help remove trash. It’s an actual fact that all Forest Rangers are friendly and want to give you information. When we called our local ranger station while traveling through Salida, CO we were directed to the Public Lands Partnership Coordinator in Upper Arkansas Valley for the BLM and US Forest Service, Allison Stewart. While her title may be complicated, the advice and information she gave us was not. If you wanted to organize a cleanup in her area, Allison would do her best to utilize existing partnerships and help get something off the ground. She recently helped organize a massive cleanup on May 20th for the first ever Colorado Public Lands Day (Colorado is the first state in the nation to have its own Public Lands Day, calling on other states to follow suit!). Contact someone that already has contacts, it can be as easy as a phone call.
Whether you are picking up trash with friends, or part of a hundred person effort, remember that the gear you bring is important. Always wear hardy closed toed shoes, thick pants that will protect your legs, and never pick up something that might cause you harm (think sharp rusty pieces of metal, needles, gas or fuel containers, and anything else that even looks questionable).
If you’ve arranged the clean up yourself, it helps to set a goal before you head out. We like to dedicate a certain amount of time to looking for trash, or designate an area with physical markers and pick up everything we find within those boundaries. Bridges often harbor a lot of trash, so we will clean from the bridge to the water and back. Set a goal and stick to it so you’re not meandering around for hours wondering when you can eat your snack.
If you’re reading this article, you are already more interested in helping with the issue than most. There are benefits beyond just helping out mother nature. You’ll find like-minded people whose enthusiasm for the outdoors is on par with yours. You’ll make new friends. You’ll spend more time outside. The bottom line is - If you just pick up trash that you notice at trailheads, along the trails, and overall make an effort to leave an area better than you found it-- you are making a positive impact. It can be as simple as finding a few friends, keeping a few leftover grocery bags handy, and hiking a trail you know might need some attention. We can all do this! And we can make friends along the way. If you’re interested, contact us, or La Sportiva, and get the trash ball rolling.
Photos: ©Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine and Elevation Outdoors Magazine
Originally written by Elevation Outdoors' Live Outside and Play (LOAP) Road Crew for La Sportiva.