Most outdoor enthusiasts are well versed in the Ten Essentials — a list of recommended items or systems to help ensure you’re prepared if your hiking, camping, or hunting trip goes a bit askew. The system has been around since 1974, and paired with the principles of Leave No Trace, it provides a good general ethos for being a well-equipped and conscientious enjoyer of outdoor activities.
More and more people are heading into the outdoors these days. That’s a good thing — the more people we have who know about and appreciate our public lands, the more difficult it is for extractive industries and moneyed interests to irrevocably alter those public lands for private profit — but sadly, no matter how many times we in the outdoor world bang the Responsible Outdoorperson drum, there are still too many people out there with deaf ears.
I believe it’s still mainly an issue of education — many of the people you see on the trail may not even consider themselves hikers, and many of them may not have even been seen as belonging in the outdoors a good 10 or 20 years ago. There are lots of great resources out there that do try to instill some of those outdoor ethics, but there are many more that don’t — and if someone finds a trail from a geotag on some random Instagram post, how do we get these very necessary messages across?
I think it’s time for an Eleventh Essential: a trash bag.
I was moved, recently, by an Instagram post on the Wisdom Tree’s page from a long time hiker named Louise who was disheartened to see how trashed the area around the Wisdom Tree had become. This is, unfortunately, not a new story — the LA Weekly did a piece a few years back about the Tree potentially getting destroyed by its own fame (a very LA story, to be sure). It’s certainly not limited to the Wisdom Tree, either — on the Modern Hiker Facebook Page, it seems like there’s been a perceptible uptick in the number of readers commenting on the less-than-ideal conditions of our local trails. Louise didn’t just shake her head or complain about it on Facebook, though — she came back with a trash bag and removed all the broken bottles and other litter on her own.
In the past, there were fewer people in general on the trail, and perhaps parks had the luxury of sufficient budgets to do their own cleanup — but those days are long behind us. Those days may never return.
It seems to me we have two paths, here. We can try to close off access, keep trails secret, and content ourselves to becoming a dwindling number of cantankerous outdoor old timers. Or we can engage with these new hikers and inspire them to join the greater outdoor community.
This is a chance for outdoor enthusiasts to step it up and set a good example. Not all of us are comfortable speaking up when we see someone doing something wrong on the trail, and acting like a legion of strict schoolmarms isn’t going to win us converts anytime soon — but every single one of us can pledge to take a bit of trash off the trail when we leave.
If someone asks why you’re pulling trash out of the chaparral, tell them — and tell them why you’re giving up a bit of your outdoor leisure time to do it. Maybe you can rouse them to join in on their own or with an organized group, and at the very least you might get them to think twice before they pack a bunch of disposable water bottles with them on their next hike.
Little changes like this can have a big impact on the places we love — just ask Daisy Martinez, who started out picking up trash as she hiked and now runs the non-profit Trash Free Earth. A small good deed can end up going a long way — and during a time when it’s easy to become frustrated by powerful forces that don’t seem to listen to public input, it’s refreshing to be able to take a problem into your own hands and make things better. Literally.