Everyone comes to the Appalachian Trail for their own reasons. Having to see trash along your hike is something that will ruin anyone’s experience. Water bottle caps by the side of the Trail, cans and bottles at a trailhead, baby diaper by the privy. They all diminish the scenic values of the Trail, and it is easy to spend your whole hike wondering exactly how that microwave may have ended up in such a location.
The great news is that a Trail Clean-Up day offers a tangible way for new volunteers to make a big impact. While experienced volunteers may prefer the music of a crosscut saw singing its way through a blowdown, there are plenty of magical moments for a well-planned trash clean-up event to be a springboard for future maintainers and sawyers. Here are the top reasons to make these events part of your club’s volunteer event offerings.
Timing: These events are generally quick to plan and easy to schedule. All you need are garbage bags, gloves, high-visibility vests (for road side clean ups), and maybe a few grabbers if you have them.
Repetition: People are less likely to litter in an area that doesn’t already have trash. It signals that a place is cared for and is more likely to perpetuate care. It is also a great way to educate visitors on Leave No Trace ethics. For instance, an orange peel may not take as long as plastic to decompose, but according to Leave No Trace the Center for Outdoor Ethics, it can take up to two years for orange and banana peels to decompose. Check out LNT's Trash Timeline activity here.
Accessible: Nearly anyone can do it. Trash clean up events are the perfect family activity and they provide a great opportunity for people of all walks of life to help steward the Trail.
Sensible goals: To the average person clearing out water bars to help prevent erosion can seem like an obscure task. Clearing out an area of trash is a clear goal that provides a satisfying reward at the end.
Hosting partners in stewardship: Trash clean ups are great ways to engage new partners. Whether you are working with your local college, an outdoor gear company, or as part of community day-of-service, picking up trash is something we could all do a little more of.
A recent corporate clean up provided huge impacts along the C&O Canal.