Conserving Our Trails: Tapteal Clean Up
Most hikers and casual outdoor enthusiasts are aware of the long Scenic Trails like the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail. These interstate trails receive loads of funding, volunteers and donors to meet their goals and maintain the backcountry wilderness. However, most hikers visit our city and state parks, hiking on maintained trails nearer to towns and pavement. There are thousands of smaller non-profit organizations creating, maintaining and conserving trails and wilderness areas that make up our larger trail systems. Let’s not forget about the big effort these small organizations make that conserves the majority of American trail miles.
Recently, we participated with the Tapteal Greenway to clean up a section of the Greenway and Waterway along the scenic Yakima River, right before it meets the great Columbia River of western lore. Where Washington state’s Columbia, Yakima and Snake rivers converge, this river delta ecosystem is home to one of the most diverse ecosystems in the entire Pacific Northwest. It is an oasis at the edge of the prehistoric desert of Eastern Washington, before it meets the dramatic Cascades to the west.
The western delta is preserved through active conservation efforts by Tapteal Greenway, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and their practices designed to instill a sense of environmental stewardship in those who use it as part of their recreation experience. Our volunteer experience was rewarding, having collected river-bound litter and garbage and kept the river clean for wildlife and for others to enjoy.
Want to protect and conserve your local trails? Follow these tips before and during your next visit to any ecosystem to keep your impact minimal.
Brush up on your Leave No Trace Principles
Created to provide an easy-to-remember list of sustainable practices, the Seven Principles are an on-trail and off-trail lifestyle. If you are new to hiking, camping or backpacking, become familiar with and practice the principles to avoid looking foolish on trail and at camp.
1. Plan ahead and prepare. If you know an area is crowded or frequently visited, have backup plans ready in case you have to change your itinerary to accommodate and minimize damage to a trail or ecosystem. Arriving at a full trailhead parking lot does not mean you can park on the shoulder or illegally and still go on your hike - it means the trail has reached its ecological capacity for visitors and visitors should oblige. Check the weather to see how to dress for the environment, and know what to expect as far as swings in temperature and what the opportunities there are for dangerous weather conditions.
2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces. Stay on trail and prevent erosion and trail wasting. Walk through the mud instead of expanding the trail around puddles - having a good water-resistant boot when you’re out makes this much more tolerable. Guard rails and fencing around cliffs or ledges are there for a reason, and you shouldn’t go beyond bounds just to get that epic-selfie.
3. Dispose of waste properly. The easiest of all the principles to follow, picking up after yourself and others’ is the biggest impact you can make every time you visit a trail. If your leggings don’t have any pockets, a convenient fanny pack or pocket belt can be a great addition to your outfit. If hiking with your pets, bring as many dog-doo bags as you can fit. It may seem like an innocuous thing to leave in the wilderness, but domesticated animals have other parasites and bacteria that may introduce new illnesses to a wilderness population.
4. Leave what you find. There are plenty of spaces designated for rockhounding or beachcombing, but out in the wilderness and in city parks leave the beautiful wildflowers and unique geological gems that can be found by others in the future.
5. Minimize campfire impacts. Not just applicable to campfires - many wildfires start from vehicle or equipment exhaust if the conditions are right. Parking and idling on dry grasses during or after a drought can cause a fast-growing brush fire very easily. Avoid disposing of ignited material like cigarettes and properly extinguish and dispose of butts.
6. Respect wildlife. Seeing and viewing wildlife is a large reason many take to trails; the exciting and chance sighting of a bear or moose, or maybe just a woodpecker or migrating finch is a large draw for many. When wildlife become habituated to an area because they have come to expect an easy meal, they become dangerous not only to the visitors of an area, but also to themselves. There is an adage that a fed bear is a dead bear, and this applies to most wildlife living in areas that humans recreate. From a fox euthanized due to photographers’ baiting an area for staged photo to a bison calf in Yellowstone, animals unfortunately tend to come in last when it comes to incidents on our trails.
7. Be considerate of others. Practice trail right-of-ways and yield to up-hill hikers, you certainly wouldn’t want someone impeding your uphill momentum. Keep your trail dog on a leash and be respectful of others’ and their pets. While all dogs are good dogs, you can’t know for sure how well another dog is going to react to your dog. In the event of a likely wildlife encounter, having your dog on leash makes it easier to control them and prevent either animal from getting hurt.
Read more about Leave No Trace here
Carry a trash bag and gloves
While this is an extension of a LNT principle, bringing a bag for extra litter and gloves to safely collect it is a simple gesture that goes a very long way. During our garbage treasure hunt along the river, trash collected at the edge of the water was just a strong wake or wind gust away from entering our waterways. We focused our search and efforts there, and picked up everything we could grab - cigarette butts, microplastics, glass - as much as we could sift from the sand.
As you're hiking anywhere - national park, city park, your neighborhood - pick up your and others’ litter to keep every ecosystem as diverse as we can. Carrying something as small as a ziplock to collect trash when you go out can add up over years of adventuring our local trails, so consider the small effort it takes to make such a big impact.
Volunteer with Local Organizations
Speaking of small effort, big impact - volunteering with organizations like Tapteal Greenway which are completely volunteer and donor-lead, can take just a few hours of your time to make a huge difference in our community.
Our outing with Tapteal Greenway was only a few hours, but our efforts will be felt by everyone who runs, fishes, kayaks or hikes along the Greenway. Our group of a few volunteers alone saved the diverse area from over 50lbs of garbage - the entire effort from the day bringing in much more. That was garbage just days away from entering the waterway system and damaging the most precious resource found in a desert - what a rewarding experience.
Donate to RecreateIf you’re unable to volunteer in a clean up or other more physical activities, organizations can benefit from your online shopping. Check your local area organizations for online shops, links to affiliate shopping with programs like Amazon Smile that benefit them when you checkout.
To benefit the Tapteal Greenway, shop our Tapteal Greenway Collection and we’ll donate the proceeds of each purchase directly to the conservation of the Yakima River delta ecosystem.