Hiking Lightly on the Land

May 10, 2022
Check out these tips to give back to the trails you love by making your next outing a little lighter on the land.

by Sarah Mowry

One of the best parts about living in Central Oregon is our abundance of trails for walking, hiking, running, and riding. On any given day you can find a place to visit that meets your needs for length, weather, and wonder. In honor of Earth Day, and as you get ready to head out on your next trail, here are a few tips to give back to the trails you love by making your next outing a little lighter on the land:

  • Connect with the land. How often have you hiked, walked, or rode by something—a flower, tree, rock, or name—and wondered what it was or how it came to be? This Earth Day, make a commitment to learning more about the natural world and the Indigenous communities that have been caring for it since time immemorial. Pick one topic to explore and get to know it better through books, guided hikes, or your favorite podcast. Then, pledge to take care of it—now and into the future.

  • Volunteer to improve habitat for plants and animals. Photo: Land Trust.
    Volunteer to improve habitat for plants and animals. Photo: Land Trust.
    Volunteer. Help take care of our trails, our water, our wildlife by volunteering with a local agency or nonprofit. It truly takes a community to take care of these community assets. Find some time to give back, whether out on the trail or inside. Donating your time helps ensure natural places will be here for generations to come. Volunteer with the Land Trust!

  • Welcome everyone. Help improve access and inclusivity in the outdoors by sharing these spaces with the entire community. Many of us are lucky to be able to easily explore trails, forests, and grasslands, and not everyone has the access, time, or barrier-free ways to do so. Learn more about inclusivity in the outdoors and support groups that improve access. The earth needs more stewards who will protect and care for it today and tomorrow.

  • Pack it out. It doesn’t have to be a designated cleanup day to help keep our trails in great shape. Stash a garbage bag in your pack and pick up trash as you go. Pack out your own trash, and pick up those that may have been left behind by others. And, yes, your orange and banana peels are trash—or a great addition to your home compost! Don’t leave them on the trail as tropical fruits are not the normal diet of high desert animals, and they can take a long time to biodegrade.

  • Embrace the trail. Staying on established trails help us limit our impact on the land. Avoid shortcuts, user-created trails, or trail widening to help protect native plants and the important service they provide of helping keep soil in place and filtering pollutants. If your favorite trail is muddy (likely in spring!), don’t hike in the mud. Hiking on muddy trails causes trail erosion, widens trails, and can cause damage to the trail tread. Choose a different trail and give that trail the chance to dry out.

  • Respect animals and plants. Our favorite trails are home to a wide array of wildlife. Think of the forest, desert, or mountains as their domain and treat it respectfully. Give wildlife the space they need (including abiding by official wildlife area closures), don’t chase or follow them, don’t feed them, and leash your dog. The same goes for native plants—give them the space they need to thrive and take photos, not samples. While you’re at it, consider pulling some nonnative invasive weeds! They threaten the health of native plant communities and can rapidly take over and be spread by hikers and riders.

Earth Day is only one day a year, but you can choose to make every day Earth Day. Yes, it’s a cliché saying, but in the era of climate change, we desperately need more people to take actions to care for the land, our water, our trails, and our wildlife to ensure we all have a future together. Get out there and make a difference!

This story first appeared in the The Bulletin.


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