I watched the guy put his beer can in the snow bank at Ouray Ice Park and walk away. “Are you serious!” I shouted after him, not even registering how upset I was. The man and the woman with him turned around and looked at me as I held up his beer can, my eyes wide and my appearance roughly resembling the younger brother in “A Christmas Story” (think immobile michelin man). I couldn’t get any more words out, I was dumbfounded and angry. My boyfriend and the rest of the group told him that it wasn’t cool and the we all had to do our part, all in a much nicer tone than my high pitched shriek of righteous environmental anger.
This was one of those moments where my entire attitude about the world changed. Since this moment I’ve picked up trash everywhere I go to enjoy being outside. It’s not always easy. I’ve stuck my hand into hollow trunks, shaking in fear that a snake was waiting in the dark spaces to jump out and bite me. I’ve crawled around on the ground below a climb collecting metallic star confetti for over an hour. I’ve stopped every few feet hiking to pick up tiny pieces of food wrappers. I’ve packed out grocery bags that did not smell like squashed lunch and held onto them till I could reach a trashcan in the nearest city. I don’t often get thanked for doing these things, and a lot of times I don’t really want to carry someone’s dog poo, but I do it because I love these wild places.
Why is this important? Not only do I want to leave these places better than I found them, but I want to set an example for those around me and everyone after me. Pack it out. According to statistics in Outside Magazine, “The National Park Service (NPS) and its 273.6 million annual visitors generate more than 100 million pounds of waste each year, and that doesn’t include the trash generated by the concessionaires that operate the lodges, transportation services, and dining facilities.” Leave No Trace, the company responsible for getting out the message to so many outdoor enthusiasts has developed seven principles for individuals to abide by in an effort to minimize our human impact on these beautiful places.
These principles may seem daunting, limiting, and exhausting but the costs of not following them is great. I’ve been guilty of camping on whatever is flat, not thinking about the damage I’m doing, or walking along a muddy trail or river bank which can lead to erosion. According to research collected by Leave No Trace , “Extensive social trails in some high-use areas near rivers have led to increased bank erosion, channel width, and sediment transport. [...] A study on camping impacts to vegetation found that it would take about eight years for sites camped on for four nights to completely recover their vegetation cover.”
We all have to do our part. We all have to share in the burden. We all have to pick up after ourselves and each other. Our planet is absolutely incredible, offering a wide range of different places for humans to experience everything this wild place has to offer. From the cliffs in Yosemite to the deserts of Utah to the glaciers of Alaska to our own neighborhood parks, we should all do our best to make these places a little bit better so that they last a little bit longer.