We CAN have nice things! This is how.
In November of 2014 the Baxter State Park Authority penned a letter to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Let’s be honest, it may have been addressed to Wendy Jassen, but it was written to you, me and everyone else using the trail. The letter should have opened a flood gate of outcry, and public shaming from those on and around the trail. We should be encouraging everyone throughout the entire hiking community to step up their game. The examples outlined in the letter are things that can easily be corrected. Zach did a great job removing the clutter of the letter and discussing the Thru-Hikers Code of Conduct. Jesse also wrote an awesome article giving examples on her 5 Ways to Inspire a Generation of Stewards with great ideas on teaching children Leave No Trace.
I’m not one for rules, or regulations. I have this anti-authoritarianism thing going on upstairs. That being said, I try to treat and respect others as I would expect them to treat and respect me. Unfortunately common sense and common courtesy, are not always common practice.
We, as a current generation of hikers/stewards/ambassadors must perform at our best to ensure the tradition continues. I recently had a conversation with a lifelong friend of mine about our roles in our respective organizations. We discussed how we are passing our values on to the next generation following in our footsteps. I’ll use the example of myself teaching my successor how to instruct any given topic. I spend a lot of time in front of groups of people, teaching and presenting to members of my organization on all levels. When it comes to expecting the best from my successors, I must hold myself to a higher standard than I normally would. If I have an 8 hour course and teach it in 7 hours in front of my successor, they will in turn lower the bar again and teach it in 6 hours. Trust me, as an instructor I have other things I would love to be doing as well. However, I must hold myself to the higher standard to maintain the same standard in the future generations. This coincides with passing the torch of the 7 principles of LNT perfectly. The more short cuts we take, the more future generations will take and so on down the line until the foundation of LNT is lost entirely.
When I was a white water raft guide we stopped at the same place on the shoreline for lunch about 5-6 days a week with groups up to 75 or 80 customers. Needless to say we made a lot of trash, daily. We always made sure to collect ALL of the trash before getting back on the river after lunch. Little food scraps lead to little animals, little animals lead to big animals, and pretty soon Yogi is being eaten by a Tyrannosaurs Rex at the lunch spot because someone is too inconsiderate to pick up their left over possum loaf sandwich. (No possums were harmed in the making of said sandwiches.)
Using discretion is one of the best ways to help heal the wounds some of our predecessors have created with the community around the trail. It’s up to each of us to make our own choices. We may or may not agree on the next part. Feel free to comment below with your opinion. If you want to enjoy a can of Troegs Perpetual IPA or even Troegenator atop Katadin after hiking 2,100 soggy miles so you can send them a selfie… f’in’ go for it, that shit’s awesome and so are you! You’re a certified badass now! But if you plan to then throw the can onto the rocks instead of doing the right thing, someone should engage with you in a brief conversation about how to NOT Hike Your Own Hike. The enjoyment of your well deserved, celebratory beer did not hinder the enjoyment of anyone else’s journey, so long as you are discrete about it.
In the letter mentioned earlier they discuss a few things that were subtle but could make a huge difference. It’s no secret that if you hike 2,100 miles you’re going to see some weirder things than you would in normal civilization. Drinking and drug use might be slightly more common on the trail than off. It’s not my place to tell any other person what they can or can’t put into their own body. However, I always recommend that they use good judgment, and use my super power of being a passive aggressive smart ass when they are harming others or someone else’s property. Look, my boss at the rafting company called me Rockstar for good reason(Note: I have zero musical ability). There’s a time and a place to rock out. 4 AM at a hostel or shelter full of hangry hikers just might not be it. Be more subtle than the half naked hiker sprawling, half in & half out of their tent or at least don’t make a habit of it. Your new trail name would be Half & Half and you would be infamous in your hiker class. The more open you are with your extracurricular activities, the more likely you are to have someone Yogi on your stash, or have an issue with someone who may(or may not) save your butt out there sometime in the future. Remember the trail provides, but don’t prevent yourself from being helped in your time of need.
The issue at hand goes beyond burning trash in fire rings and zombie toilet paper raising from their cat hole graves after a rain storm. Our actions within the communities around the trail, not just the trail community, leave footprints on the minds of some with whom we never even interact.
h/t Kworth30 for the Katahdin photo
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