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4 Ways to Take a Hike and Help Your Favorite Trail

July 25, 2023

Guest Author: Department of Natural Resources

What does being a trail steward mean?

A trail steward is someone that knows what a trail in good shape looks like, someone who cares for trails as they use them. If you are a new trail user, or just never heard of trail stewardship, it’s as simple as leaving the trail better than you found it.

Trail stewards are especially important this year. In seasons before the pandemic, DNR would partner with stakeholders and volunteers to have large work parties of people that come and tend to the trails.

Want to help? Inspired by the Recreate Responsibly coalition and Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance information, check out these tips on how you can help make your time on the trail a better then when you found it.

1. Trash? Pack it out.

Every trail user should experience pristine nature. It starts with each of us, and it is important to do your part in keeping our trails and recreation sites free of trash.

Make sure that if you packed it in, that you pack it out.

Join the Dirty Pocket Club in putting trash, even small things like gum wrappers (micro-trash), in zipped pockets (or in a trash bag in your backpack) to make sure it doesn’t fall out by accident.

Micro-trash affects the environment in a multitude of ways, including posing a risk to wildlife that could ingest it, and polluting the watershed.

Courtesy of Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance

Even organic waste, like apple cores, banana peels, and especially dog poop, are not native to Washington forests. This waste needs to be taken all the way home.

Food waste can attract bears and other animals, creating a potentially dangerous situation for animals and hikers alike.

Forests are delicately balanced ecosystems, and using them as a compost pile just isn’t helpful for the forest’s health. Besides, no one wants to see your apple core on their adventure.

2. Something blocking the trail? Move it.

Sometimes branches or other debris blow down onto the trail. It’s important to keep trails clear for users for whom debris might prove an obstacle, like mountain bikers and people with disabilities.

No one is immune to stumbling over a rogue log. So be courteous and help your fellow adventurers out.

If the debris is small, go ahead and move it off the path. When lifting, make sure to use your legs to lift the weight, and not your back. Never try to do more than you are able, and always consider your own safety first.

Advanced: Report larger problems

If you came across an issue you couldn’t fix, such as a downed tree blocking the path, a large puddle, or waste you didn’t feel comfortable collecting, please report it so that DNR’s recreation staff can take care of it safely.

Visit our Recreation Resources page to see which region your trail is in, then call or email that region’s office to report the issue.

If you encounter illegal activity on the trail, please report it to the DNR by emailing forestwatch@dnr.wa.gov. Your feedback and contributions are what help make Washington trails such great places to visit.

3. Large puddles in the trail?

If you come across a large puddle, look to see if it has a blocked drain. This happens when leaves and sticks are washed downstream to create a natural dam. If possible, dislodge the ‘dam’ with a stick or with your foot, allowing the puddle to drain.

Be careful of existing infrastructure and only distribute obvious debris.

Come prepared. Wear footwear that can handle a puddle, no matter the time of year, in case you come across one on the trail.

Advanced: Avoid trail braiding

When hikers go around established trails (usually because of a puddle or other obstacle) and make the trail wider, this is often called trail braiding.

Why does this matter? Trail braiding dislodges soil and can lead to sediment getting washed into our waters, degrading water quality and fish habitat.

If you are interested in learning more, this pamphlet explains why sediment is harmful to streams. And in this science demo, it shows that there is an increase in runoff when soil is exposed.

Recreationists should stay on the trails as much as possible, even if that means getting your boots or bike muddy, to keep our waterways clean and all the forest ecosystems functioning properly.

4. Want to learn more about volunteering?

Do you have a passion for trail maintenance and want to volunteer to help keep our forests ready for all the different kinds of recreation? There may be opportunities to work with our local recreation managers and other groups that are organizing small, local work parties to tackle areas that are in the most need.

Learn more about different kinds of volunteer events through the Washington Trail Association (WTA), Evergreen Mountain Bike AllianceBackcountry Horsemen of WashingtonFriends of Capitol ForestWashington Off Highway Vehicle Alliance, and Northwest Motorcycle Association.

You can also volunteer with DNR in a variety of ways. Join a work party or become a Forest Watch volunteer, for instance, and spend time helping out the trails you love most. Learn how at dnr.wa.gov/volunteer.

Advanced: Become a camp host

Love to camp? Live the dream. Apply for a campground host position for the next summer season. Campground hosts provide a positive, helpful, and informative DNR presence in campgrounds and recreation areas. Learn more at dnr.wa.gov/volunteer.

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