If you’ve ever been hiking, you have probably seen signs that say something like “Please Stay On Trail”. Now I’d venture to say that we have all been guilty at some point of cutting a corner or two, but even so it is incredibly important to honor these signs’ requests. Though in true RVbooking fashion I won’t make you just take my word for it — I’ll share what I know so you can pass it along to your next hiking buddy and beyond.
Let’s go back to the basics: Nature isn’t just beautiful, it is alive. And it is the reason there is life on Earth. If that feels too basic, just know that means you’ve passed the first test. Not everyone makes it this far, you know. We’re just happy you’re here!
Beyond this, there are ecosystems working in balance to allow for all species in an environment to not only survive, but thrive. Between worms processing dirt into soil, seeds germinating, larvae growing and so much more that would inevitably require a much stronger biological vocabulary than I can offer you right now, there are countless integral moving parts that go unseen to the untrained eye, and thus regularly under-appreciated and sadly end up underfoot.
To add to this living and breathing biome, when there are no living plants on the ground to hold the topsoil in place, the soil cannot hold water well. (Need I remind you what water is the basis of life itself?) Even a small amount of water can dislodge and move the dirt around. This process, which can seem benign but has long-lasting and far-reaching effects, is also known as erosion.
On a small scale, this can allow pollutants to spread, clog waterways, disrupt the water ecosystems in tandem with land ones and decrease the amount of fertile land available. This is of course bad enough, but when this happens on a large scale like after a fire, floods and mudslides can devastate an entire ecosystem and town all at once.
And if you’re thinking “well, I’ll just step on these cute little plants once and since everyone else is following the rules they will be fine in the long run”, then let me remind you of something called the Tragedy of the Commons.
Let me share this next bit as I channel my high school social studies teacher: The Tragedy of the Commons is a community concept that essentially says when there are no rules on how to access or utilize a common resource, everyone will act on their own self-interest and overuse said resource. When you think not everyone is acting selfishly, it can be easy to justify acting selfish yourself. However, most humans will still do this for personal gain or convenience, resulting in total depletion of the resource through uncoordinated action. Whew, thanks Mr. Baldwin!
Now there is the positive side of the Tragedy of the Commons: Everyone’s decisions matter and add up. So sharing your new knowledge, doing your part to stay on trail, and showing respect to your surroundings is what doing the work looks like. Essentially, staying on trail allows humans to enjoy the scenery without demanding that it be ours for the taking. Ensuring not only that you can enjoy the trail next year, but that future generations can as well.
One step at a time, literally.
Happy Trails and Happy Snails!