Voices in Education

The Unspoken Rules of the Hiking Trail

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"When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” - John Muir

The views from Alaska are bigger, wider, and more beautiful than any place I have been and I have traveled all over the world. There is nothing better than waking up early on a summer day, the sun is already shining, and the trails are calling my name. I take myself to the mountains, fresh air already filling my body with joy and happiness. I walk about a mile in and what happens? “You’re gonna make me feel like I’m the only girl in the world…” blaring out of someone’s personal speaker. A group of hikers taking over the whole trail talking loudly, music blaring from their personal speaker, one smoking a cigarette which he smashes against a tree and drops the butt, their dog doing his business that they neglect to pick up. WHAM! My whole hike is ruined.

From the well-traveled hikes at Glen Alps in Anchorage to the more elusive wilderness trails in Lake Clark National Park, Alaska is home to stunning hikes which attract visitors from around the world. We love to share the beauty of our home with all who come by. More often than not, you have a question and we will answer it, in detail, with way more than you wanted to know. But one thing we request is to show our home some respect and have a little trail etiquette. Not sure what that is? Let me help you out.

Leave No Trace Just like a highway, trails have unspoken rules that avid hikers follow. Probably the most important is to follow the teachings of Leave no Trace. LnT is a short set of suggestions that allow us to enjoy nature for years to come. The LnT website outlines 7 principles for safe, sustainable trail and wilderness usage. These principles are listed at the end of this blog. Basically, be prepared for your hike, do your research, be considerate of others, and respect the plants and animals in the area. 

Allow me to share 3 quick ideas for having a safe, hassle-free hike.

1) Be considerate of others, remembering things like keeping your music off or low. Give way to the faster party and don’t crowd others while they are enjoying the woods. Being considerate includes not stopping at the most inopportune moment of someone else’s descent to capture that selfie you must have because the light is at the “golden hour.” If you are hiking alone, make sure someone knows where you are hiking – Alaskan trails can be tricky, the weather unpredictable, and you never know when an animal might surprise you. I understand you want to be smart and make noise so you don’t accidentally disturb a bear or moose, but if you are hiking in a group or even with a friend, you don’t need your speakers blaring the latest radio hit. Instead, have a conversation with your hiking partners. That is usually enough noise to alert an animal to your presence and a chance for you and your buddy to catch up about the beauty around you and the latest GoT episode. 

2) Your pooch is super adorable but take the waste with you! We love dogs and we love to have them along because they make great hiking companions. But always, ALWAYS, clean up after your dog. That doesn’t just mean bagging it and throwing it on the side of the trail. That means pack in and out all your waste products. If you want to take them hiking, be responsible for their waste, too. My dog, an adorable little husky mix loves to hike (she even has her own backpack which is super adorable)! On our hikes, she is responsible for 2 things: carrying her own water and treats and packing out her own poop bags. It works great and we never leave unsightly green bags on the side of our favorite trails. Oh yea! One more thing on pups; if they are trained off leash that is great. If they tend to be a little naughty (insert my dog here), leashes help other hikers enjoy their walk dog-free if that’s what they please.

3) Finally, stay on the designated trails.  Be smart about “social trails,” as most people know them. Those are the little off-shoots of major trails that aren’t actually part of the trail but someone walked there and must have seen something cool because an entire herd of elephants followed them and made their own trail. Sometimes those trails really do lead us to awesome things but we must consider our impact.  In the summer, my whole job (the best in the world) is to work on trails. We, myself and other trail dogs (people who work on the trail all summer), , close the non-designated “social” trails, maintain established trails, and even create exciting new trails for visitors to enjoy. I love my job. I just wish I didn’t have to close off trails that are destroying the land I love. We create trails that take you to stunning views of glaciers, hand trams that suspend you over a glacial river gorges, and wilderness trails that circumnavigate lakes and waterfalls. We know where the cool stuff is and want to get you there in the most sustainable way possible. Please, for the sake of planet, take care of the trails and surrounding land. We only get to see some of the sights for so long and they will disappear. The longer you use sustainable trails, the longer we get to share in mother nature’s beauty. 

So, listen to the words of John Muir, “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” Come say hi sometime! I’m the BFH, the Big Friendly Hiker. You’ll know me by my fiery red hair. I’ll be hiding in the hills surrounding Lake Clark, ready to greet you with a smile, a hello, and a tip about the next great trail you should treat yourself to.

Directly from the Leave No Trace website: The Seven Principles  

  • Plan Ahead and Prepare
  • Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  • Dispose of Waste Properly
  • Leave What You Find
  • Minimize Campfire Impacts
  • Respect Wildlife
  • Be Considerate of Other Visitors

Jessica Winn is aptly nicknamed the BFH - the big friendly hiker - because she greets everyone she meets! By winter she teaches the high school masses biology, physics, and other sciences. She also avidly participates in the FIRST robotics program as a mentor of multiple teams. In the summer she gets to help high school students on the beautiful trails in Alaska doing trail work, beautifying parks, and exploring. She is from California but has called Alaska home for the past 7 years. She loves the outdoor world and enjoy it by hiking, biking, kayaking, and camping in some of the most beautiful places Alaska has to offer. She has worked for the National Park Service in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, the Student Conservation Association in Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and Lake Clark National Park, and Youth Employment in Parks in Anchorage and surrounding areas preserving Alaska’s wilderness. She is always up for a new challenge and looks forward to whatever life throws her way! So come find her on a trail some time, she can’t wait to say hi!

Jessica Winn

Jessica Winn High School Science Teacher

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