National Trails Day

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June 1, 2013: Fishing Hole Lake
National Trails Day was celebrated on June 1st this year. Quoting a web source regarding the history of the event, “Since 1993, the first Saturday of every June is known as National Trails Day, inspiring the public and trail enthusiasts nationwide to seek out, discover, learn about, and celebrate America’s trail system…” The source continues, “…National Trails Day evolved from the 1987 report of President Ronald Reagan’s President’s Commission on Americans Outdoors. The report recommended that Americans should be able to walk out their front doors and within 15 minutes, be on trails that take them through their cities or towns and bring them back without retracing any steps. The recommendation, also known as Trails for All Americans, inevitably motivated several public and private parties to join the American Hiking Society in launching National Trails Day in 1993.

REI, in association with GroundWork Dallas, NatlTrlDay-June 01, 2013-DSC_1432 v2jh copysponsored a local event celebrating National Trails Day focused on a small section of urban wilderness known as Fishing Hole Lake. Fishing Hole Lake is under development as a part of the Elm Fork Green Belt Park Project. The spring weather has been relatively cool this year and the sky was overcast for the 49 volunteers who arrived to participate. The cloudy skies made for good working conditions and, according to Peter Payton of GroundWork Dallas, 5 miles of trail were cleared and improved and 2,400 pounds of trash was collected and hauled away to the dump.

NatlTrlDay-June 01, 2013-DSC_1458 v2jh copyThe Elm Fork is one of the four branches of the Trinity River (the other branches are the West Fork, the Clear Fork and the East Fork). Many of the lakes in North Texas are fed by the Trinity River, its branches and the various creeks that empty into it and are major sources of water for the Dallas/Fort Worth metro area. The Trinity runs right next to downtown Dallas and the city has proposed major urban renewal projects that involve the creation of parks and other public gathering spaces along the banks of a revitalized Trinity River.

Special thanks to REI Outreach Specialist Renee Shippey and GroundWork Dallas Executive Director Peter Payton for organizing the event. A very successful and rewarding experience!

Reference
1. National Trails Day: http://usparks.about.com/od/trailspathsdayhikes/a/national_trails_day.htm
2. American Hiking Society: http://www.americanhiking.org/
3. National Trails Day Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NationalTrailsDay
4. Trinity River Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trinity_River_(Texas)
5. Trinity River Branches Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bachman_Branch
6. Groundwork Dallas: http://www.groundworkdallas.org/
7. REI Stewardship & Volunteer Opportunities: http://www.rei.com/stewardship.html

Photos
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Earth Day Resolution

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The trailer for the documentary “Trashed” opens with a spectacular view of the Earth from space. The narrator begins with the words: “From up here our planet looks perfect. It’s only when we look more closely that we start to see some of the results of our consumption…”

EarthDay-February 24, 2013-DSC_1121 v2jhThe same is true of Lake Lewisville… From a distance it too looks beautiful. However, upon closer examination the damage of our negligence is clearly seen. Trash, litter and general pollution are constant companions when visiting the lake and the sheer volume can sometimes be overwhelming. This blog was started with the goal of being a catalyst for change. The hope being that through words and images, that others would become aware of the situation and take positiveEarthDay-December 23, 2012-DSC_0949 v2jh action. However, creating a blog doesn’t really do anything to improve the condition of the lake – a blog is a virtual medium, after all. If tangible results were the desired outcome, something additional would be required.

I associate the lake with fresh air, good times and a chance to be at one with nature. I was prepared to EarthDay-January 27, 2013-DSC_1047 v2jhinvest a substantial amount of energy into making a positive difference, but I didn’t want the activity to diminish my enjoyment of the lake. I also didn’t want to commit to something that was so onerous that I would burn out after a short period of time. In the end, I found the answer in the concept of leaving an area in a better condition than it was found.
EarthDay-December 24, 2012-DSC_0956 v2jhThe volume of trash is such that the actions of one person on any given day are not going to make a significant impact. Only long term, repeated actions and the involvement of others will truly make a difference. However, with each visit I can certainly pick up and carry away a small amount of garbage. Further, it does not matter whether trash is pickedEarthDay-November 24, 2012-DSC_0773 v2jh up at the beginning, in the middle or at the end of a lake outing. In fact, making trash the focus of a trip or paying too much attention to it during an outing has the potential to ruin the adventure. The commitment I decided to make is to pick up trash at the end of each visit. In general, I start picking up anything I can find when I’m 15-20 minutes away from my car. It is surprising how much garbage can be removed in those final few minutes at the end of an outing!

It is with those thoughts in mind that I want to recognize an organization I recently discovered while driving to work (I saw their billboard sign on the side of the road). The name of the group is called “ReverseLitter.com” and they are also working to clean up litter. Their website is full of good information and they promote an interesting call-to-action called the “Ten on Tuesday” pledge. Although my approach to cleaning up the environment is a little different, we are both in pursuit of the same goal.

Pledges, commitments and promises to improve remind me of New Year resolutions. Many people begin each year with resolutions to make positive changes in their lives and, with Earth Day 2013 just passing, I wonder if we are in need of Earth Day resolutions. What is your Earth Day resolution? What can you do to make a positive difference? What will you do to leave your part of the world in a better condition for future generations?

Reference
1. Earth Day Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earth_Day
2. Trashed Film Trailer: http://vimeo.com/41514228
3. Trashed Film Website: http://www.trashedfilm.com
4. ReverseLitter.com: http://www.reverselitter.com

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Learned Behavior

I saw it happen recently while visiting a local Costco warehouse. A mother and her young daughter were walking up to the store. The child ran ahead, grabbed a shopping cart and began climbing in. Once inside, the girl noticed a discarded clear plastic bouquet bag lying in the basket area. She quickly reached down, grabbed the bag and tossed it over theLitter-November 18, 2012-DSC_0721 vSmall v2jh edge where it fluttered to the ground and began to blow away. Mom gave a reproachful shout, chased and caught the bag. She then brusquely pulled the girl out of the cart, handed her the bag and sternly pointed to the trash.

As glad as I was to see simple environmental knowledge being passed from one generation to the next, I began to wonder about our internal wiring and natural tendencies. There are many behaviors that seem counterintuitive to young children that make perfect sense to adults. Don’t run in the house, toys must be shared with others, demonstrate good manners and that people should be treated with respect are some of the early lessons that everyone learns. It seems we must also be taught not to litter.

Remember Ranger Rick, Woodsy Owl and Smokey Bear? Sometimes parents are aided by fictional, cartoon characters in teaching their children good conduct in the wilderness. Woodsy Owl is famous for his “Give a hoot, don’t pollute!” message and Smokey Bear is legendary for his statement that “Only YOU Litter-November 18, 2012-DSC_0700 vSmallcan prevent forest fires.” Of course, the hope is that cartoon characters will appeal to a young audience and their Earth-friendly message will be retained throughout life.

Education often takes a lifetime and message reinforcement is sometimes needed. Since the 1950s, advertising campaigns and television commercials have been used on both a national and state level to remind people of basic Earth etiquette. Quite possibly the most famous anti-pollution television message featured the crying Indian. Originally released in 1971 as part of a national campaign, the commercial was wildly successful at raising awareness of the tragedy of pollution and, more importantly, establishing an emotional connection with the issue. During the late 80s and early 90s, the state of Texas implemented a very successful anti-littering campaign featuring celebrities from Texas and the phrase, “Don’t mess with Texas.” According to Wikipedia, “The campaign is credited with reducing litter on Texas highways roughly 72% between 1986 and 1990. The campaign’s target market was 18-35 year old males, which was statistically shown to be the most likely to litter.” A commercial featuring blues rock legend Stevie Ray Vaughan was the first installment of this campaign and was one of the most popular versions.

Despite their effectiveness, the popularity of these campaigns is only momentary. Inevitably, attention and commitment fade as time passes. As I travel through my tiny corner of the world on foot, bike and kayak, I am stunned by the presence of so much litter. It is so ugly, wrong and out-of-place; I find myself asking, why? Why do people litter? Isn’t it self-evident that litter and pollution are wrong? Why are campaigns like those previously mentioned needed in the first place? Catchy slogans like “Keep America Beautiful” and “Don’t Mess with Texas” only go so far. What breakthrough in our social consciousness is needed so that there is less litter not more?

References
Television Campaigns
1. Keep America Beautiful featuring Susan Spotless PSA – YouTube
2. Crying Indian PSA #1 – YouTube
3. Crying Indian PSA #2 – YouTube
4. Crying Indian PSA #3 – YouTube
5. Stevie Ray Vaughan PSA – YouTube
6. Confederate Air Force PSA – YouTube
7. Woodsy Owl PSA #1 – YouTube
8. Woodsy Owl PSA #2 – YouTube
9. Smokey Bear PSA #1 – YouTube
10. Smokey Bear PSA #2 – YouTube
11. Smokey Bear PSA #3 – YouTube
12. Smokey Bear PSA #4 – YouTube

Wikipedia
13. Keep America Beautiful
14. Litter
15. Don’t Mess With Texas
16. Woodsy Owl
17. Smokey Bear
18. Ranger Rick

Litter

A recent issue of National Geographic magazine featured an article discussing the human population of Earth reaching 7 billion. To accommodate the growth of humanity and our widening global footprint, cities spread inexorably into rural and wilderness areas leaving shopping malls and housing subdivisions where farmland and forests once stood. The phenomenon is called urban sprawl, and it is responsible for habitat loss and the displacement of large numbers of wild animals. However, urban sprawl is only one side effect of our growth that is negatively impacting the natural world; the unprecedented increase in garbage and human refuse is another.

People create an enormous volume of trash; an incredible amount of trash becomes litter and litter frequently makes its way into the wilderness. Whether introduced accidentally or through sheer carelessness, litter in a natural setting is jarring; a highly visible blight identifying the unmistakable presence of Man. Urban natural areas (the parks, forests, rivers and lakes that are in close proximity to cities) are frequently heavily utilized for recreation and therefore exceedingly vulnerable to human impact. We seek out these natural areas as an antidote to city life and too many times, frequently because of our litter, leave them in poor condition. Multiply the nuisance and damage of litter from a single individual by the thousands of visitors that these natural areas are exposed to on an annual basis and the problem grows exponentially.

Litter is a purely human creation and finding so much of it within our urban natural areas is a tragedy. The struggle of wild creatures innocently living their lives within a habitat increasingly polluted by our trash is sadly compelling. It is my hope that the photography and stories found on this blog will draw attention to the litter problem and that positive change, a cleaner environment, will be the result.

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Lake Lewisville

“Lake Lewisville is a trash lake.”

I’ve heard that sentiment expressed countless times since relocating to North Texas in 1991. Having lived within a few miles of the lake for the majority of my time here, it wasn’t until I moved to Corinth in the fall of 2005 that I began to spend significant time in, around and on the water.

Through the years my experience with the lake has increased and I’ve seen firsthand that the statement “Lake Lewisville is a trash lake” can all too often be taken quite literally. Whether kayaking on the water, hiking a lakeside trail, bird watching in a stand of trees or camping in the woods; trash is a nearly constant, highly visible companion. Over time I have seen many examples of the natural beauty of Lake Lewisville. However, I have also seen this same natural beauty, in all its delicate wonder, marred by an unbelievable amount of litter.

Is anything being done to address the problem? Does anyone care? Seeing so much trash spread over such a large area, I sometimes wonder if others have become numb to the issue; essentially, becoming desensitized to the litter and accepting it as a normal part of the landscape. Perhaps a sense of hopelessness exists brought about by the sheer volume of trash and a feeling that the actions of individuals will not make a significant impact.

Growing up as a Boy Scout in the Colorado Rockies, concepts like “leave no trace” and “pack it in, pack it out” seemed so simple and so basic as to be obvious and self-evident. I encourage anyone who visits the lake to pick up a little trash. Take more out than you arrived with. One of my favorite sayings is “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” By taking positive action in simple and quantifiable ways, we can make the lake a better place one piece of litter at a time. Together, our small steps can make a difference.