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    How many times have you hiked into an area where you felt as if you were the first person to have set- foot on that very spot? The wilderness surrounding you in solitude and deafening silence as you breathe deep of nature’s serenity, reveling in its awesome pureness. You take in the vast view sprawling before you as far as the eye can see. A moment later, those same feelings are shattered by the glimpse of silver reflecting off a discarded, empty beer can.

    A person can’t help but wonder: If someone went to the effort to carry it all the way in here full…why can’t they carry it out empty? It takes no more time, or effort, to leave an area better then it was when you arrived, than it does to trash it. The impact on the environment, and those who enjoy and appreciate what it has to offer, is far too great a thing to ignore. It takes from 200 to 400 years for an aluminum can to biodegrade – it takes less than a second to pick up that same can.  

    Most trail heads and entrances into hiking and camping areas are posted with signs reminding us to clean up after ourselves. “Pack it in – Pack it out” and “Carry in-Carry out” are two such signs. Small prompts like these are helpful reminders to clean up after ourselves while enjoying the outdoors… but they are not enough. Discarded aluminum cans, plastic water bottles and human debris can be found along every accessible trail from city parks, to the far reaches of the backcountry. The greater the number of people exploring our natural parks and wilderness areas, the greater the problem has become.

    Nobody likes to clean up after someone else, but when it comes to our public lands, it is the duty of every conscientious hiker that steps-foot on a trail to do their part in protecting the natural beauty of the outdoors. Pack a few small garbage bags each time you set out on a hike. Not only pick up and carry out your own debris, but reach down and pick up that discarded water bottle or aluminum can carelessly tossed by another. It may not be your trash, but it is your wilderness, and ultimately… your responsibility.

    A rule that every outdoor enthusiast should abide by: “Always leave an area cleaner than you found it.”  It is just that simple. Perhaps the phrase should also be written at every trail-head and camping site.  If everyone were to follow this one simple rule, there would no longer be dreams of solitude and serenity shattered by the sight of a discarded aluminum can.

    A teacher once said this many years ago: “If you want to know if a certain act is right or wrong – imagine the impact if every single person in the world performed the same act.” Think about those words the next time you are enjoying the tranquility of your favorite hiking spot and catch sight of that discarded beer can. Reach down, pick it up, and pack it out. It is a seemingly insignificant task that will leave a positive impact ten-fold on the environment, on those that come after, and ultimately, yourself. 

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