Making Strides in Trail Stewardship
As hiking rises in popularity, we’re constantly looking for innovative solutions to support a growing number of hikers on trail.
We often look to gear and gadgets when we think of outdoor innovation. Satellite messengers have opened up a new channel of backcountry communication, technical fabrics have helped us shave pounds off of our pack weights, and pocket-sized stoves give us boiling water in just a few minutes. But it’s not just the gear that’s changing — the way we care for trails has also been evolving over time.
Let’s look at trash, for example. Decades ago, it was common practice to bury or burn trash in the backcountry — but hikers soon realized this wasn’t a sustainable option in the long run. The hiking community shifted our behavior and began packing out everything we hiked in. Nowadays, many hikers go the extra mile and carry out additional trash they find on trails too.
Hiking with dogs off-leash and under voice control was once the default on many public lands. Now, leashes are advised by many land managers as a tool to reduce conflict with wildlife, protect nearby vegetation and be courteous to other trail users.
These innovations are not just in the past, either. As hiking rises in popularity, we’re constantly looking for innovative solutions to support a growing number of hikers on trail.
Management of human waste continues to be a tricky situation on public lands. Whether hikers are digging a cathole or using an established privy, poop adds up fast — much faster than it breaks down. Land managers have been trying new ways to minimize the problem, like installing urine-diverting toilets that speed up waste decomposition in high-use areas or providing WAG bags for hikers to carry out waste when traveling above the snow line.
WTA has also been looking at changes we can make to lessen our collective impact. One way we do that is by working to build connector trails and directional loops in high-traffic areas. Encouraging the use of loops and traverses — rather than out-and-back trips — can reduce each hiker’s physical impact on the trail. Rather than hiking the same section of trail twice, your feet only go over each section of trail once. And as a bonus, it can help get you a bit of solitude on a busy trail by decreasing the number of times you pass other hikers or need to stand aside to let others pass.
The way we care for trails is continually improving as we learn how to be better stewards of the land and our fellow hikers. Today’s hiking norms may look different in a few years, and we — and our trails — will be better for it.