With warmer weather comes the desire to get outside, be active, and enjoy the sunshine. Whether hiking, biking, or camping, the warm weather brings many fun and exciting possibilities. For decades now, trash pollution has become increasingly more common, and still not dealt with. Kalamazoo is no exception. Most people who are regularly outdoors know the simplest task you can do to really appreciate the gorgeous nature you’re in, is to take everything you bring outdoors back with you when you leave. Picking up after yourself should be simple enough, but Kalamazoo seems to have a crappier problem on their hands.
Kalamazoo’s Trail Behavior
As an avid hiker, I can honestly say I was surprised at how much garbage was left behind at the few Kalamazoo trails I have been able to visit now that Spring is upon us. I’ve had the pleasure of hiking in the upper portion of the Mitt, along with the majority of the U.P., Northern Wisconsin, and Northern Minnesota. Out of all of those areas and states, Kalamazoo is appearing to be the worst place for hiking solely because nobody can remember to pick up after themselves.
Picture it, Saturday March 5th: It’s the first warm day of the year for Southwest Michigan. People are outside, enjoying the radiant UV rays we’ve all been missing through the irregular months of Michigan’s winter. As you excitedly hit your first trail at Kleinstuck Preserve Nature Trail, glancing around to accept that the snow is finally disappearing, you see it. Trash. It’s everywhere, but not just trash. As you get closer to the plastic bag so you can do your due diligence of leaving the trail nicer than you found it, you realize it’s a bag filled with dog poop.
Now you might be asking yourself, why go through the trouble of picking up the dog’s poop, if you don’t go through the trouble of throwing it away? I certainly asked myself this very question. It just doesn’t make sense. Why carry around the plastic bag, then choose to pick up a decomposing material in a non-decomposing material, only to leave it sitting on the ground anyway? Now, I’m not suggesting people should choose to stop hiking with their dogs, or to stop picking up the poop so it can become fertilizer. On the contrary, I am asking for people to follow through with the process they had started: throw away the bag of poop!
Leave No Trace Ethics
“Pack it in, Pack it out" - Leave No Trace Website
The basic concept is simple: pick up after yourself. While this should be the most minimum of impacts, it appears to be very hard for the majority of people to remember. This 7-step framework on Leave No Trace Ethics should help anyone, whether avid outdoorsman or visitor, to remember and think of their own minimum impact practices when out in nature. While you can find the step-by-step process and explanations to each of the seven principles online, it should be easy enough to remember the overall point of these seven scientifically thought-out steps: Respect the people and environment around you, and pick up after yourself.
Here are some of my personal tips to go along with a few of the Leave No Trace steps:
1. Be prepared before you go.
Tip: If for whatever reason you don’t think to remember garbage bags specifically for your trip, my go to is to leave a roll of garbage bags in your car at all times. This way you are prepared for the mess you bring outdoors, and the mess that seems to always build in your car even though you cleaned it a week prior.
2. Travel & Camp in safe and durable place.
Tip: Travel with a collapsible walking stick, not only does this help you maintain balance on rough surfaces, but it also helps minimize the pressure long walks typically put on your knees. Making sure you also have the proper footwear does wonders for your peace of mind on the trip, and your joints afterwards.
3. Waste Management
Tip: For those campgrounds that don’t have bathrooms, collapsible shovels are a thing, and they make the process of having to occasionally dig that hole much easier.
4.Watch your campfire and respect your surroundings
Tip: Smokey the bear appreciates when you keep track of your location, surroundings, time of year, and how dry the weather has been before choosing to start that potentially dangerous fire. He also appreciates it when you watch out for local wildlife and know your personal safety measures when encountering bears and other potentially aggressive animals.
What are your favorite trails to go on near Kalamazoo or neighboring Southwest Michigan? Do you have any Leave No Trace or additional safety tips to share? Let’s all make the minimal effort of picking up after ourselves to show our appreciation to the community and environment.