As spring beckons people to outdoor endeavors, it doesn’t hurt to do a run-down of what is the best outdoor behavior to stay safe and not damage nature in the process of enjoying it. Here are five reasons for staying on a trail when hiking. They are not in any order of importance except for the last one. That one is the most important.
After Pat Quackenbush, the naturalist at Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio introduces himself at the beginning of the naturalist led night hike to Ash Cave, he talks about the three-foot drop on the right side of the trail further along the path. When I took such a hike, he advised the 150 plus people who had come to be wowed to stay closer to the left and watch out for that drop. This leads to Reason Number 1.
- Reason 1: There may be places where the trail has eroded at the edges or where there is a dangerous spot to be aware of. Paying attention to the trail also helps you see roots, rocks or branches along the path that may twist an ankle or cause a fall. This also helps keep you aware of slick spots caused by mud or wet leaves.
- Reason 2: It protects the environment. When you step off trails, you damage the ecosystem. Often there are rare plants, moss, lichen, bugs or whatever that are in balance with each other. Your boot or sneaker-clad foot can do enough damage in one second that takes years to undo.
- Reason 3: Depending upon where you’re hiking, birds can be nesting near the trail. Your intrusion can mess up the procreation process. Even worse, you could step on a nest and take out the bird family.
- Reason 4: Staying on a trail helps prevent you from getting lost. You still might get lost, but at least if you’re on a trail, there’s a path for people to follow to find you. If you go bushwhacking in the woods, lots of luck with that.
- Reason 5: It can save your life! During his talk Quackenbush also said that hiking at night without a naturalist at Hocking Hills State Park is not allowed. This is for good reason. The park has cliffs and drop-offs galore. If you don’t know where they are, you can fall. In the best case scenerio, you twist an ankle. In the worst case, you die. That’s what happened this past weekend at one section of the park. A 20-year old woman scrambled up off the trail, only to fall. She later died at the hospital.
Bonus Reason: Reason 5 reminded me of this reason. If you die while hiking, your family and friends could be forever haunted by your fall. When my husband was in his 20s, one of his friends fell off a cliff in Glacier National Park in Montana. My husband was working with him at one of the lodges the time. Years later, my husband still talks about that day as if it just happened.
Seriously, folks. Stay on that trail. It’s a trail and it’s marked for good reason.
*The first photo was taken by desparil on a mountain summit in Corsica, France.