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Land Stewards Encourage ‘Leave No Trace’ Principles After 2020's 'Summer Of Poop'

People eager to find peace in the outdoors last year amid the pandemic flooded into New Hampshire’s state parks and outdoor spaces. And they left their mark. Cars were backed up for miles by some trailheads and maintenance crews were tasked with picking up trash. This year, the New Hampshire Division of Travel and Tourism Development has started a campaign to encourage all residents and visitors to abide by the principle of “Leave No Trace,” asking people to leave the outdoors just as they found it.

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All Things Considered host Peter Biello spoke with Jack Savage, president of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, about what “Leave No Trace” means and what people can do to help. Below is a transcript of their conversation.

Peter Biello: This is All Things Considered on NHPR. I'm Peter Biello. The phrase "Leave No Trace" may already be familiar to hikers from the Granite State, but this year, the New Hampshire Division of Travel and Tourism Development is emphasizing it for visitors from out of state. It's an effort to protect the state's natural landscapes and destinations. Amid the pandemic parks in 2020 saw overcrowded trails, tensions with park workers and problems with litter. Those behind the new effort are hoping this summer will be better. Jack Savage is president of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, and he's seeing some of what's happening on the trails. Jack, thank you very much for speaking with me. 

Jack Savage: It's my pleasure, Peter. 

Peter Biello: So, Jack, last year we saw a surge in outdoor recreation as New Hampshire residents and visitors sought out distractions from the pandemic, outdoor distractions in particular. What were some of the impacts of this increased traffic that you saw? 

Jack Savage: So here, at the Forest Society, we have 190 forest reservations spread across the state, more than 100 in towns and so in any normal year we have at least 250,000 to 300,000 people on our land. So we're kind of used to dealing with the impacts that come from that kind of visitation. Last year, I think everybody would agree, was just remarkable and it was remarkable in a wonderful way and then in some unfortunate ways as well. The poster child for the issue of overcrowding, too many people that at a particular time, was, for us, certainly Mt. Major, where we manage a parking area that fits about 66 cars and there would be cars parked along Route 11 going up a mile either way. And that created a number of stewardship issues, impacts on natural resources. The quality of the experience I think was degraded for some people. Local neighbors and townspeople and police officials and rescue officials were all troubled by it. And that scene was repeated around the state. I know up in the [White Mountains] it was a particular problem, too, up in the Mount Washington Valley. And we've all tried to pull together and try to address that and try to figure out how we can help people understand how to keep themselves safe, hike responsibly and play well with others on the trail.

Peter Biello: Those were some of the negative aspects. What about positive things that came along with more people coming into the outdoors?

Jack Savage: The flip side of all this is the incredible opportunity it presents. If you, like us, are responsible long term for managing a natural resource, you need to make sure that the people who come after us, whether it's in 20 years or 50 years or 100 years, care as much as we do today about that resource. And so, we know from studies that formative experiences as youth, taking a walk outdoors, can connect you to the value of that experience and instill in you an ethic that makes you want to make sure that there are as many great opportunities are in New Hampshire today, still here 100 years from now. 

Peter Biello: We often think of leaving no trace as not littering. But are there other aspects to this time honored principle that may not be so straightforward? 

Jack Savage: Well, so, if you live next to a popular trailhead, for example, and suddenly you have not just a few, but dozens or even hundreds of cars and people along your road and you can't get through your own driveway, you have find people parking in your own driveway, you find people walking up into your yard - that's a problem for you. And that was happening different places around the state. It's also, and forgive me for indiscretion here, but it's known colloquially as the "Summer of Poop." Literally, there was a problem with people who simply were unable to find the toilet facility doing their business right there on at the trailhead or whatever it was. It was bad. 

Peter Biello: So when people do leave a trace, how is that dealt with and what happens? What's the impact?

Jack Savage: So, there are a variety of things. One is the impact on the experience itself. If you were out on a trail like at Mt. Major, you're typically there with other people. And so how you comport yourself and how, if you're hiking with the dog, how you manage that dog, all of those kinds of things impact other people's experience. And so, learning how to share the trail is important. There are direct impacts on the natural resource. You know, we try to keep people to stay on the trail rather than making increasingly wide walk arounds and widening the trail again and again. [There are] some very fascinating studies about the impact on wildlife, whether it's noise or vibrations on the land or the widening of the trail or whatever. 

People in a natural environment have impacts on wildlife.

Peter Biello: From your perspective, are we seeing changes this year compared to last year? Are things looking better on the trails?

Jack Savage: I think they are. One of the things that I would say has definitely happened is those folks who feel a particular responsibility to steward the trails have really stepped it up. We've had a number of volunteer work crews out this summer working to clean up trails. Ideally, you don't have people who have to pick up after others, but inevitably that occurs. And so whether it's working with high school students on Mt. Major or on Earth Day or working with our regular volunteers, people have sort of dug in and worked hard to clean up.

Peter Biello: Jack Savage, president of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, thank you very much for speaking with me. Really appreciate it.

Jack Savage: I appreciate the opportunity. Peter, thanks so much.

Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered and Writers on a New England Stage at New Hampshire Public Radio. He has served as a producer/announcer/host of Weekend Edition Saturday at Vermont Public Radio and as a reporter/host of Morning Edition at WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.
Julia Furukawa is the host of All Things Considered at NHPR. She joined the NHPR team in 2021 as a fellow producing ATC after working as a reporter and editor for The Paris News in Texas and a freelancer for KNKX Public Radio in Seattle.

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