Trail Stewardship

We have all heard the term, “pack it in, pack it out” and I think that most of us do our best to live by those words. Sure, there are the occasional trail newbies that simply are not prepared for what might happen on the trail (my sister once saw a shirt with feces smeared on it left behind on a trail-that was definitely an unprepared soul!), but I like to think that most of us take our trash out with us. Taking your trash is just the start of good trail stewardship, however.


I’ve got a pooch that goes with me on almost every hike. She is always in her harness and leashed to me. She often carries her own trail pack. I have seen many unleashed dogs on trails, even those where keeping dogs on leash is the rule. Everyone thinks their own dog is well behaved, and many are. What about the dog you may meet that is not well behaved? It takes just one bad encounter to ruin everyone’s hike. Remember, trails are not dog parks, and are often wild areas with wildlife that deserves protection from your animal. The best way to be a good trail steward is to leash your dog at all times.

Rebel isn’t too sure about the pack, especially because she has to carry her own stinky…

And, let’s not forget the other big issue we have with dogs: the poo. No one wants to carry a stinky bag of dog dookie with them, I know, but if you want to hike with your four legged friend, it is a sacrifice you need to make. If you are caught off guard without a bag, then please at least make an effort to dig a hole and bury it. It is inevitably always me that ends up stepping in a mess left behind by someone else’s dog. And if you do bag the feces, TAKE IT WITH YOU! Feces by itself will eventually biodegrade-that plastic will not. There are not magical trail fairies that pick up the poo you leave in a bag.

Stay on trail

Most trail users don’t give a lot of thought to the trails they are hiking on and few question the reason a trail takes a particular route. Most trails actually have a lot of thought put into them by the forest services, trail associations, and different parks and recreation groups that create trail systems. Paths are chosen to minimize erosion, allow easier access, preserve wildlife habitats, and ensure trail safety for all users.

Trespassing, accidental or otherwise, is a problem for the stewards of trail systems, especially if people trespass onto private property. The friction between private land owners and trail systems is often the difference between land owners allowing easement through their land to access trail systems, or completely prohibiting access by putting up fencing and cameras.

They exist for a reason-use them!

That is not to say that people don’t get lost. I’ve been misled by trail apps that show a trail that isn’t there, or isn’t the official trail. This is why following official trail maps and signage is the best way to be a good steward of the lands you hike. Don’t go trailblazing; you are more likely to get lost and very possibly piss somebody off that may then restrict access to the wild lands you love.

Leave it better than you found it

If you are following the above guidelines, great! Your commitment to positive trail use is a great example for others. What do you do upon encountering issues on your hikes? If you find garbage, do you grumble about litterers and keep walking? If there is a large branch on trail, do you step over or push it out of the way?

It can be easy to look at these things as issues caused by other people and the responsibility of trail maintenance crews. I have to admit for a while that was my reaction. The more I have been outdoors, though, I have realized that I can do the very simple task of bagging trash and taking it out with me, or clearing the path if I can safely manage it. I pack extra dog bags with me, so I never touch garbage directly with my hands, and I dump it upon reaching the bins at the trail head.

Give back

I understand not everyone has the means financially or the time to dedicate, but if you do, I highly encourage getting involved. Many local trails and parks are managed by small non-profit groups, or on ever decreasing state and municipal budgets. Often trail maintenance is a luxury and simply keeping toilets clean and trash removed is the priority.

This is where you come in! If you have a favorite park, natural area, or conservation district that you enjoy, see what you can do to support it. Many have memberships for small yearly donations, and may utilize volunteers to help with trail work and fundraising efforts.

I recently became a member of the Dishman Hills Conservancy. I spent the summer training for our backpacking trip on their trails, so I wanted to give back. And because my life wasn’t crazy enough, when I got an email recruiting for volunteer stewards this fall, I signed up for that too. My duties mainly consist of hiking the trails often, noting any issues and resolving what I safely can, and submitting a report after each hike. It feels good to be involved in giving back and supporting wilderness conservation in my area.

I hope these tips have provided some ideas on how to be a more thoughtful user of your local trails. Enjoy your time outside!


*If you happen to live in the Spokane area, please check out and consider getting involved. Dishman Hills is completely free for access by the community.

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