I take trips. I take hikes. I take photos. I take chances. I make memories. I get so much from public lands, I sometimes forget that I also have to give. Many people think about giving back as making a donation or volunteering to do trail work. Giving doesn’t have to be a grand gesture or time-consuming activity. There are many simple acts that make a difference.
Give respect, even reverence
Some of my favorite childhood memories are from cross-country skiing on miles of trails deep in the woods. I’d stop and without the swooshing of my skis, be astonished by the stillness and the quiet that surrounded me. I followed my dad up endless hills to feel a hint of adrenaline as we descended down. I wound through the winter woods with my sisters and friends. The trails were well -signed and many of them groomed. But I didn’t give much thought to those things. Partly because I was a kid. But also because I just showed up and it was all there, ready for me to enjoy.
It wasn’t until I worked for the National Park Service that I realized how much effort goes into maintaining trails or campgrounds and managing public lands in general. Some trails through the Rocky Mountains of Montana required intricate rock work or boardwalks to protect sensitive alpine meadows. Even a seemingly simple path through the woods is carefully sited to reduce impacts to plants or wildlife or to reduce erosion. Summer and winter trails need maintenance. Trees fall and must be cut out, steps and erosion control features deteriorate. All this and more takes time and funding. Respecting the work that goes into the places we enjoy can lead us to take better care of them.
It deepens my respect for places when I remember that Central Oregon is home to sensitive and endangered species; that there are many culturally significant sites here; that the places we enjoy today have long histories and delicate resources that can quickly be destroyed by an instance of carelessness. These places aren’t here just for us. They have importance spanning from the past and long into the future. This requires everyone to act with reverence for the intricacies we may not see or understand but are present around us.
Give silence, give space
If you’re out with friends or family, keep your voices down. This increases your odds of having a unique wildlife sighting and lessens the amount of disturbance you have on animals in the area and on other visitors. Hearing a bird call or even just total silence can be such a magical experience. Many trails in central Oregon are near private homes, respect those residents by giving them peace and quiet.
Give thought to where you park. The ground adjacent to a trailhead or gravel road can look bare and dusty in the fall and winter. But in the spring and summer, that patch of dirt could be carpeted with colorful wildflowers. Many trailheads are designed to match the carrying capacity of an area. The size of the parking lot equates to an appropriate number of people the area can sustain. If a parking area is full, move onto a different location, give others a chance to enjoy that area without overcrowding it.
Give the illusion of a wild place
Most people know the basics, like not littering. Consider other impacts, like keeping your dog under control and picking up after them every time. Central Oregon loves dogs which means there are lots of pups cruising around. Over time, dog poop adds up and so do other impacts such as disturbance to wildlife or trampling vegetation, especially in riparian areas. Do everything you can to not leave any evidence of you or your dog’s presence.
It’s extraordinary and increasingly rare to find solitude, to feel like I am in a truly wild place where no other people have been in a long time. Impacts, over time, decrease that sense of true wildness.
Maybe you get a workout or exercise for your dog, maybe you get fresh air or a sense of adventure. Maybe you get rejuvenated. We all get so much from our open spaces. Next visit, consider how you might give.