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Sustainable tourism is becoming more widely discussed, and part of that discussion includes hiking. With so many people hitting the trails for the first time, getting the word out about sustainable hiking practices has never been more critical. There are so many gorgeous trails that we have access to in Kentucky, but people are ruining it. I’m hoping it’s just because they don’t know any better!
We went hiking to Red River Gorge a couple of weeks ago, and it was a mess. One of my absolute FAVORITE trails ever, Copperas Falls? Pretty disgusting… and when I say disgusting – I mean someone dropped trow and left a No.2 on the trail?! Not to mention that at the start of the trail – there was a big bag of trash left that had burst open, revealing dirty diapers, food, etc. Hiking trails could quickly become a health hazard themselves if we don’t do better.
Golden Rules of Hiking: Leave No Trace
1. If you pack it in, you pack it out.
This means anything you bring onto the trail – you take out with you. Don’t leave your trash behind (and that includes all of your beer cans and bottle tops). Including cigarette butts! (Side note: If this is something you do – please remember that second-hand smoke is dangerous! Especially during this time when the coronavirus runs rampant – second-hand smoke is the last thing anyone should be breathing in. If you consider the pulmonary (lung) health of the people around you- smoking on the trails is the last thing you want to do!)
2. Don’t spray paint or tag anything.
Save that for the side of a building somewhere. We can all appreciate street art and murals, right? But that’s where spray painting belongs. I can’t tell you how many times something truly magnificent has been destroyed by spraypaint out in the wilderness? Waterfalls, large mossy colored boulders, and other fairy tale spots are semi-ruined with the presence of spraypaint.
3. Don’t carve into trees.
You might think that the small carvings are no big deal, but they can actually have a pretty big impact on the environment. Trees, for example, have bark as a protective barrier from disease and drought. When someone carves into a tree- they’re now more susceptible to disease. As fast as the world’s forests are disappearing, the last thing we want to be doing is destroying the trees we still have by accident! (Even if it seems romantic, a tree shouldn’t be in jeopardy for something you probably won’t remember in a year!)
Enjoy the views, take a pic for your gram, and enjoy the time with your family and friends!
4. Put out your fires.
Another thing we’ve seen around the forest campsites are campfires being put out poorly. Remember Smoky Bear?! ‘Only YOU can prevent forest fires!’ I know in the summer in Kentucky when everything is lush, and it rains all the time. But we do have dryer seasons and it’s not good practice to leave your fires smoking!
Packing for Leave No Trace Hiking
The easiest ways to think about Leave No Trace principles- leave it how you found it. From packing your lunch in reuseable ziplock bags to packing water in camelbacks and re-useable water bottles, it just takes small changes. The things people leave behind are usually remnants of eating and drinking!
Another great way to think about sustainable hiking is that it saves you a ton of money. Purchasing re-useable items that you won’t leave behind on the trails means you’re not spending money on constantly replacing items. Plastic baggies, plastic water bottles, one time matches for lighting campfires, etc., all have eco-friendly, money-saving alternatives!
- Reusable Water Bottle
- CamelBak 85 oz Hydration Backback
- Waterproof Lighter
- Reusable Food Storage Bags
- Washable ‘Unpaper’ Towels
So Where Am I Supposed to Go to the Bathroom While Hiking?
Soo.. let’s just start out with a thought on privacy on the trails? If you drop your pants on a trail – it is highly likely that another hiker is going to come around the bend of our mountainous Kentucky region, and see you doing your business. Personally, I’d rather not see this? So what are the best practices if you just have to go while you’re on the trails?
Best practices are to walk away from the trail – a solid 200 feet if possible from the trail and from water sources– and then use the restroom. The guidelines for how far you should be from the trails come from The American Hiking Society. Why so far? Does it seem unnecessary? Remember that groundwater, rain, and other hikers spread things quickly and illnesses are spread through human (and animal) urine and feces. (**Cough Cough… Eco-Coli, Typhoid, and HIV…. )
Leave no trace principles don’t just apply to where you can relieve yourself but also as to how to clean up after. An ecofriendly option for the ladies, from REI, suggests using a pee-kerchief. What is a ‘pee-kerchief’?? Basically, packing a bandana that you use to clean up and then attach to the outside of your backpack to dry. Good for multiple uses and keeps you from getting UTI’s. Sounds gross, but it can keep you from having to pack a heavier pack of wipes into your day bag for hiking. For anything else- you’re probably gonna need more than a ‘pee-kerchief’.
Sustainable Hiking On All Trails
I genuinely hope everyone enjoys the trails and takes from them what they need to. We just have to do better as a community following sustainable hiking / Leave No Trace Principles to keep the trails clean for everyone. Even though this post is specifically talking about Kentucky, there are so many amazing trails to discover throughout the US. The last thing everyone, including the seasoned hikers, needs is for the parks to shut back down because they’re so dirty that they themselves become a health hazard.