How to Help Maintain Your Favorite Trails and Keep Them Healthy

November is a good month for hiking, with its crisp, autumn air and maybe even lingering fall colors, depending on where you live. In fact, November 17 is National Take a Hike Day, which encourages everyone to get out and enjoy the great outdoors. When you head out on one of your favorite trails, though, you may wonder what you can do to help it stay as beautiful as possible for current hikers, as well as those in the future. There are plenty of options.

Help Clear Them Out

Volunteers cleaning hiking trail in forest

Are you ever out for a hike and you come across trash someone has left behind? One of the simplest things you can to do benefit the trail is to pick that trash up. While you certainly don’t have to go out every day to remove garbage, like this outdoors advocate did, you can do so once or twice a month, or whenever you have the time. You can also encourage your friends and fellow recreators to get together for a big cleanup event.

Another good step is limiting the trash to begin with. Remember to pack out whatever you pack in on a trail, particularly if you’ve stopped for a snack or to prepare food. Don’t leave food or any of the wrappers behind. If nature calls, too, follow best practices for that. If you find yourself unable to wait until you can use the restroom, be sure to dig cat holes around six inches deep and at least 200 feet away from water sources or the trail, and pack out your toilet paper or any doggie bags, should your furry friend also answer nature’s call. Be sure to remind your hiking buddies of these rules, too.

Volunteer with a Local Organization or Park

Volunteers working together outdoors

If you want to further improve trails, you can volunteer with local or state parks, government agencies, and even popular destinations like the Pacific Crest and Appalachian trails. This could involve trail grooming or repair, building trails, removing invasive weeds, or helping educate hikers through events or other outings. You could also share information on the state of the trails with officials.

Weigh in at Public Meetings

Microphone at public meeting

Have you ever heard your local news media talk about upcoming public meetings? These may be a good chance to promote the health of trails in your area. When something of interest to your local wild places is on a meeting agenda, be sure to attend and share your input. Sometimes there are meetings for larger jurisdictions, too. If attending a meeting may be a bit tough, you can also take advantage of public comment periods and submit written input to those in charge.

Enjoy Trails Responsibly

When you’re not volunteering or advocating for your favorite parks, you likely want to enjoy them for fun, too. When you do, it’s important to keep some things in mind to not inadvertently harm the trails yourself.

Hiking boots on trail

Keep to Durable Surfaces

When we venture out on a hike, we may see signs warning us to keep to the trail. That’s because wandering off can damage the beautiful place we’ve come to enjoy. Misuse can also put trails out of commission. To avoid this, stick to durable surfaces, including the maintained trail, rock, gravel, dry grasses, or snow. Not sticking to this policy can lead to trampling of native vegetation, soil erosion, water contamination, and wildlife displacement.

Know When to Turn Back

If a trail is muddy, it’s best to go back and save the hike for when conditions improve. Not only can proceeding be dangerous, it can damage the trail and the ecosystems surrounding it.

Don’t Take Anything with You or Introduce Anything

As part of the Leave No Trace policy, you should your leave favorite trails just as you found them. That means avoiding taking items off the trail, even if it’s merely a rock or flower. This allows others to enjoy the trail as is and doesn’t cause unnecessary harm to the area. On the flip side, be sure not to introduce anything non-native to the trails.

Don’t Bother Wildlife

Hiker with wildlife on trail

When people see wildlife a ways off the trail, they’re often inclined to close the gap for a better look. We’ve particularly heard about this with several bison incidents. It’s best to steer as clear as possible, though, for your safety, the environment, and the animal. Getting wildlife used to people can make them more apt to frequent the trail, possibly looking for food. This could lead to behavior changes, and it could also hurt your chances of spending time at the trail, because it could lead to closures. Just observe the animals from a distance, with binoculars or a zoom lens.

Enjoy Those Trails and Help Others Enjoy Them, Too

Now that you’ve got the knowledge to help preserve your favorite wild places, be sure to have fun! And pass these tips onto others to make trail preservation a group effort. Want to do more? Sign this pledge to take steps to protect ecosystems.

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