Wednesday, September 9, 2015

A Day of LNT: Leave No Trace

Randy Adams
Northside Middle School
Roanoke County Public Schools
2015 TTEC Cohort
September 4, 2015

            The day started off a little cool with a light breeze and high cumulus nimbus clouds floating like giant marshmallow castles in the sky above McAfee’s Knob in Roanoke Virginia.  It was a beautiful day for a hike, but only a few came adequately prepared.   I had not walked this part of the Appalachian Trail in some time, and did notice familiar places, yet some were a little foreign and new.  I was volunteering as a ridge runner for the McAfee’s Knob Taskforce to count, monitor, educate, and assist hikers on one of the “hotspots” of the AT; however, I quickly realized that I would be getting an education on the importance and need of a better awareness of the Leave No Trace Principles.
            On this beautiful day in August, I was accompanied by two other ridge runners/ trail maintainers and my son Noah.  We hiked up at 8 am in the morning, and were met by 15 hikers coming down already from the peak.  Most of these were either day hikers or section hikers, and one trail runner.  My little day pack seemed heavier since I had trained for ridge running a week before, and had added a few more maps, extra water, and more snacks for later on.  I thought that I had adequately prepared for this day hike. 
            The first Leave No Trace principle, and probably most important, is planning.  However, that idea was the one most frequently noticed that most people on this 8 mile hike ignored.  Several groups and families had only one 16 ounce water bottle per person.  This floored me because I drank 2 liters myself and still felt thirsty at the end of the hot and humid trek.  At the top, we ran into a young man who seemed a bit unaware of the lack of water at this time of year.  He was staying at one of the shelters and inquired about where to find water, which the closest to the top was Pig Farm Campsite.   However, this young camper did not have any way to purify the water, so one of my companions gave him a liter of water from his own pack.  Lastly, I would like to say that most people did have adequate footwear; however, I did see several pairs of flip flops, tennis shoes, high tops, and flats.  The idea on this mountainous terrain without the proper footwear, water, and food continues to worry me.  
            The next principle of LNT that was disturbing to encounter was the idea of traveling on durable surfaces.  On McAfee’s Knob there is the AT, and then there is the fire road, which when combined make a loop.  However, many of the hikers that seemed unprepared took the fire road up and back.  I did not realize that people had lived up on McAfee’s Knob until the 1980’s, and the fire road was their driveway!  In addition, we noticed many side trails and hidden trails that lead often to illegal campsites and fire rings.  By law, camping is restricted to only the shelters and designated camp sites, but every week new camp sites are found and new fire rings have to be disassembled.  I was glad that my companion Jim was extremely knowledgeable about the trail maintenance, he shared storehouse of information with us. 
            The third principle of LNT is Disposing of Waste properly.  However, as we collected the visible garbage, there were several little “white tents” of human waste remains as close as 10ft to the trail.  In addition, this waste was not buried the appropriate 6 inches in depth, which was disturbing because there were two privies on the route to the top.  Furthermore, we collected at least 5 pounds of bottles, cans, and plastics while hiking.  However, we left an illegal fire ring contents of tin cans for the next day when the trail maintainers would be returning for a “work hike”.  The idea that my fellow hikers would leave this much trash on purpose is beyond my understanding of those who say the love the journey of the hike. 
            The next LNT Principle of respecting wildlife is directly connected to the trash issue at McAfee’s Knob.  In plain and exacting detail, on several kiosks and shelters, were signs warning group of teenagers with their mom, I noticed crackers thrown about the Knob at the overlook.  I thought to myself, “bear nibbles”, and looked at the teenagers who were eating their lunch by this time, and noticed that they were throwing their unwanted parts off the overlook!  My next thought was the bear will be waiting on the fire road if karma was rebounding that day.  Lastly, I did see that most people were leashing their dogs and had brought extra water for their best friends.  However, one gentleman was trail running with his dog off leash while listening to a portable speaker on his back pack—two LNT at one time.   Overall, I was pleased with the respect of wildlife I noticed in most people. 
            Along with respecting wildlife, the LNT principle of Leave What You Find covers nonliving and living things alike.  I know that finding a Native American arrow head would be extremely cool addition to my collection; however, if the next person doesn’t get to see it too, that would be an equal tragedy.  Collecting wildflowers or native ginseng along the trail may seem just being sustainable, but even if only a few of the thousands of hikers did this, then there wouldn’t be much left behind.  In the McAfee Knob area, I see this principle really connected to respecting wildlife because what I saw was graffiti at several locations.  Why can’t we leave the natural beauty to itself and not put our impermanent marks of destruction?  However, there was a graffiti that will last the test of time, because someone actually chiseled their name into a rock at the top of the Knob!
            Leave No Trace Principle number six is to minimize your impact of fire.  Upon reaching the top of McAfee’s Knob that day, we became aware that someone had an open fire right there at the ledge because they did not have the respect of both the law and the common courtesy of cleaning up your own mess.  We took the ashes from the illegal fire and dispersed them into the woods.  After this, we were shown by Jim several illegal fire ring areas that are frequently broken up by the maintenance crew of the RATC.  I think that if people were taught about the effects of building a fire on natural ground, then they might be hesitant in making illegal fires.   In addition, the need to reduce the risk for forest fires in the dry times is evident in this area.  
            The last LNT Principle is being considerate of your fellow hikers and their journey on the trail.  Overall, the people were friendly and receptive to us talking and offering advice for the trail.  The few things I saw this day were:  illegal consumption of alcohol by two different couples, several groups of loud and rambunctious teenagers and college students, loud music being played on a speaker on the trail, and the etiquette of not giving way by students going up trail to those going down trail.  However, as I said most of the people were there with the right mindset for hiking, enjoying, and sharing the trail. 
            So, what can we do?   It seems like I saw all of the things that we discussed in ridge runner training in one day.  I see that we need this service of educating, helping, and making people aware of the Leave No Trace Principles.    First, we need more volunteers from all walks of life and ages.   Secondly, I think that since McAfee’s Knob is a hot spot with hundreds of people visiting mainly on the weekends that a deeper Ranger presence would be helpful.   In addition, I think that since the AT is getting media attention for the upcoming book A Walk in the Woods, that a media campaign to educate the locality.  Maybe, local students could raise awareness through some sort of art or public service project?  Roanoke will be getting a visit by the Leave No Trace National Trainers, which will be coming by Northside Middle School as a connection to our science classes.  If we don’t increase the awareness of LNT Principles, what I have seen in one day to negatively affect the future of McAfee’s Knob as the most visited and photographed location on the Appalachian Trail.

No comments:

North Carolina NCCAT participants

North Carolina NCCAT participants
At the Wayah Bald Fire Tower

Mary Jane

Mary Jane
On top of Silers Bald