Running on trails is a magnificently pure way to experience nature and be one with the landscape. No matter the method of travel though, human presence has effects on nature. This is a guide to minimize your impact, keeping nature beautiful for the next person and next generation. Many of these points are borrowed from LeaveNoTrace.org.
Stay On The Trail.
Probably one of the best ways to preserve nature is by staying on trail. This means never stepping on or sitting on the grass. Alpine and desert terrain are extremely fragile. The soil that holds grass is usually just a couple to a few inches thick. A few footprints is enough to break the soil and roots of the grass and result in its death. These soils don’t have leaves and other animal waste to fertilize them, and the harsh elements lead to it taking decades to replenish soil and grass.
Steep slopes, such as those on mountains, are especially fragile as shoe tread can rip and tear the soil away.
If you must leave the trail, favor stepping on durable terrain such as rock, snow, ice (when safe), or fallen trees. This includes when passing people or letting people pass. Most trails are wide enough for both parties to stay on the trail when passing.
Pack It Out
If you bring it in, bring it out. All trash, calorie gel pull tabs, ganola bar wrappers, etc. should come back with you. If you’re the person who likes to make a sign to hold at the mountain, excellent, but nevereverever leave that sign at the top. Nobody else wants your sign nor to carry it out for you and it has now become litter. Litter left behind will pollute water sources or be mistaken for food or bedding by animals. These manmade elements can carry chemicals and bacterial that can harm the animal.
This also includes your dog’s poop. After you’ve put their poop in a bag, tie it around the leash. It is a ticketable offense to leave poop behind on many trails.
Bury Your Poop
Nature calls. When it does, leave the trail by stepping on durable terrain when possible. Dig a small hole about 6 inches deep to bury your waste in, and fill it back in. Don’t use the bathroom under cliffs or rock overhangs, as rain cannot reach these areas to flush out any waste.
Pieces of history are fun to wander upon. From time to time you might find animal bones, a cool rock or stick, etc. These things contribute to the beauty and history of that trail and should be left where they are. Bones and decomposing trees are a common shelter for many insects, animals and bacteria that are critical to the ecosystem. Keep the ecosystem flourishing by leaving anything that is natural in nature. This especially applies to any Native American artifacts.
Social media is, one one hand, a remarkable tool that helps us interact with friends and family that may be on the other side of the globe. On the other hand, it also can draw attention to places that cannot and should not handle the impact of repetitive human travel. If you find yourself on a picturesque mountaintop or place that lacks evidence of human interaction, keep it to yourself. Keep location tags off, or even better, let those special places exist only where they are – not on the internet. Nature will – and needs to – last longer than the rush of a few likes.
There is an awesome scene in the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty where Sean Penn, playing a NatGeo photographer, spots a snow leopard in the wild. The one he’s been on assignment looking for. After staring at the leopard for some time, camera aside, Ben Stiller asks “when are you going to take [the photo]?” “Sometimes I don’t. If I like it, I just want to exist in that moment. Just sit. There. In the moment.” Be like Sean Penn.
Let Animals Be Wild
Never chase or harass an animal. Humans cause for animals to flush – leave their habitat – and often they are reluctant to return. If you do see wildlife, give it space and let it live in peace. Never feed wildlife, as this can cause human dependency and increase chances of disease in the animal, people, and can lead to animals attacking people.