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Monday, December 28, 2015

Ethical Hiking for 2016

Stay on designated trails

During my 2015 hiking adventures, I noticed a disturbing trend. It seems the popularity of off-trail and bush whack hiking has been growing. I've witnessed this firsthand, read endless news reports about off-trail hikers needing rescue and saw hiking clubs promoting these types of outings on their websites. Although cross country travel on some public land is not necessarily illegal; I question the ethics of such use. Land management agencies across the board are embracing sustainable practices for recreational management. These include paying special attention to trail construction, ATV access, group size limitations and educating the public about the damage caused by irresponsible use.
For hikers, the message is simple----stick to established trails. This rally cry encompasses more than the cartoonish cliche of the "militant tree-hugger". It is supported by science (see one good source below) and rooted in maintaining access while preserving irreplaceable resources for future generations.
Don't trample pristine land---use the trail
Here a just a few reasons why hikers should stay on trails:
• Studies have shown that initial, low levels of trampling on pristine land causes the most severe damage.
• Unofficial social trails can cause confusion and lead to hikers getting lost.
• Social trails are built without the benefit of environment impact studies and are largely of poor design making them dangerous for users and harmful to sensitive vegetation.
• Delicate soil crusts that contain organisms essential for forest health take hundreds of years to form are destroyed by one boot print.
• Off-trail exploring can harm fragile archeological sites.
• There are hundreds of abandoned mines in Arizona that are not obvious until somebody gets injured.
• Trail cutting and widening along with carin building cause erosion and encourage others to follow suit.
• Off-trail hikers can trigger higher defense response in wildlife.
• Contrary to popular belief, hiker-blazed routes are NOT automatically adopted into the land agent's scope of official trails. If you have an idea for a new trail---contact the agency.
• Even a short off-trail traipse to find a good lunch spot causes damage. Take breaks on durable surfaces like established camp sites or trail-side logs.
• The seeds of invasive species have been documented to stay lodged in shoes for hundreds of miles. When you cut into soft, untraveled land, these seeds may take root causing devastating disruption of the ecosystem.
• Hiking off trail puts the search and rescue workers who will come to save your butt at unnecessary risk.

As the popularity of hiking for leisure, fitness, healing and personal growth continues to rise, paying attention to sustainability will become more and more important.
My New Year's wish for 2016 is that individual hikers and groups alike adopt and share sustainable trail ethics with a vengeance.
Arizona has a deep bench of hiking clubs that organize events, teach skills, donate countless hours of volunteer work and foster lasting friendships and a love of the outdoors. These same wonderful clubs have a great opportunity to promote stewardship by example.
See you on the trail in 2016!

Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics

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