Warm weather has arrived in Colorado, and many of us are looking to get outside and enjoy the great outdoors. With so many people using the same trails, parks, and open spaces, there are a few things we can all do to preserve the places that bring us so much joy.
If you’re a trail regular, you’ve probably heard this before: Leave No Trace. Pack it out. Poop responsibly. Below are a few reminders you might not hear as often but are equally important in making sure that recreation doesn’t wreck the outdoors.
Save It on a Rainy Day
It’s a gloomy day and most people will be staying home. It can be tempting to hit the trail in the rain, but water is a trail’s worst enemy and your feet or tires will only erode the trail faster. As the saying goes, you don’t have to go home… but you shouldn’t go to the trails.
If it is a sunny day and you encounter mud – splash through! Though not ideal, this is better than going around it. Stepping off-trail will widen the trail and destroy vegetation. Besides, what’s the fun in going outside if you don’t get a little dirty?
Keep Trail Mix Off the Trail
It’s easy to toss an apple core into the woods; it’s not as easy for that apple to decompose. It can take two months to break down while orange peels can take two years! Plus, your half-eaten granola bar makes the trail a tasty – and thus dangerous – place for wildlife and humans alike.
If you feel bad sending food scraps to the landfill, look into home or municipal composting options. If composting isn’t feasible for you, that’s OK! Use the trash can; don’t turn the trail into one.
Embrace Existing Trails
You may have read stories about people illegally building trails or mountain bike jumps. Even more common are “social trails”, paths worn over time by people going off-trail to take a shortcut or see a new view. But trails are built the way they are for a reason. Land managers can spend years planning a trail and how to reduce its impact on the environment. When you alter a trail or wander down a social trail, you put your short-term desires over the long-term needs of nature.
Instead of taking trails into your own hands, take part in the process. Follow land managers on social media or contact them directly to stay informed about public comment periods, open houses, and other ways to weigh in on trail changes.
Take the Trail Less Traveled
Even when you follow Leave No Trace principles, visitation has an impact. Dozens of feet add up, wearing down trails and putting extra strain on amenities like bathrooms, trash cans, and parking lots. Crowded trails also create a greater disturbance to wildlife and result in people going off-trail to get around others.
Consider giving your favorite trails a break by exploring new areas and going at off-peak times if possible. You may even find a little peace and quiet, away from other people!
Put the Public in Public Lands
Nearly three-quarters of Coloradans recreate outside, and there aren’t enough resources to keep up. Rocky Mountain National Park is the 3rd most visited National Park in the nation and has nearly $17 million in backlogged maintenance needs for trails alone.
Recreationists shouldn’t leave it up to land management agencies to take care of the land because with limited funds, they simply can’t do it alone. Numerous nonprofit organizations, including Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado (VOC), offer countless volunteer opportunities throughout the year to lend a helping hand and address critical needs across the state.
Groups like these – and individuals like you – are increasingly important to the preservation of Colorado’s trails, parks, and wild places. With so many people enjoying the outdoors, it is up to all of us to mitigate our impact.
Learn about volunteer opportunities at voc.org/volunteer, talk to park rangers, call out bad behavior when you see it, and check out online resources to make you a true outdoors enthusiast – NOT a wreckreator!
Header image by Susan Daniels Photography