On The Trail Again

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The dogs and I are back on the trail again. Part urban, part rural, the path we choose on any given day may take us along small town streets, down country lanes, next to train tracks used by the Denton County light rail system, or to the shores of Lewisville Lake. We might walk next to a cemetery, a soccer pitch, a softball field, city hall buildings, a man-made tyrannosaurus rex statue, a family of llamas, horses, cows, chickens and roosters, or through small nature areas. On a recent hike, I saw a road runner where I had previously seen one years ago. It was great to see the bird again.

Shady Shores, Corinth, and the northern edge of Lake Dallas are the primary communities where we find our trails. Hikes can be as short as 1 mile or as long as 10 (depending on our energy and available time). The variation in scenery and the rustic natural beauty in and around these small towns is quite appealing.

An interesting thing happens when you walk streets that are normally driven: you notice things. Sometimes it’s a bush or a tree or a creek that, when passed at 35 miles an hour or faster, looks like a blur or a flash. Yet, when approached at walking speed that same object pops into sharp focus. Bright flowers, green leaves, rough tree bark, glittering water, fish, birds, and other wildlife begin to appear and the unique features and beauty of each can be appreciated.

Unfortunately, the same concept applies to litter.IMG_0035

I am always amazed at how much trash we are exposed to in our daily lives. Sometimes I wonder if, as a society, we have simply become numb to the point that we don’t see the trash around us – it essentially blending in and becoming a normal part of our urban landscape. Whatever the case may be, trash that is invisible when driving by in a car begins to stand out with jarring visibility when seen while walking. It cannot be ignored.

I have a rule when on foot: if I am literally stepping over trash or see it within 5-10 feet on either side of me, I will pick it up. I have IMG_0036resumed my old habit of carrying plastic grocery bags with me so that I can pick up and carry back the trash that I find. Recently I came to the unfortunate conclusion that grocery bags were not big enough and started taking my 45-liter North Face backpack with me.

On the trail, the dogs wait patiently as frequent stops are made to pick up litter. Gradually our routes are cleaning up. The sad thing is that this is a job with no end: new trash appears almost as fast as it is carried out. Thinking about that too much can be depressing and lead to thoughts of giving up. It’s much more productive to focus on the positive aspects of taking action – it feels good to be making a contribution no matter how slight or fleeting the overall impact.

IMG_0045 Roadside litter.
IMG_0037 Roadside litter.
IMG_0073 A full bucket and full trash bag ready for loading. The backpack already has two large glass wine bottles inside. The bucket was found wedged in bushes along the trail.
IMG_0075 A 45-liter backpack stuffed full of trash. The bucket was refilled with litter on the way home.

Changes

The company I work for provides annual health examinations and I am a regular participant. The results from this year’s exam were something of a wake-up call and provided personal insight in two areas: 1) if health improvements are to be realized, several personal lifestyle changes are necessary and, 2) when it comes to exercise, I can make prolific, creative, and compelling excuses for being lazy at a world-class level.

One of the areas requiring change is physical activity, as in daily exercise. A few years ago, some friends of mine at the office purchased Fitbit exercise trackers and we had great fun challenging each other for supremacy in daily and weekly step totals. One friend that I had a big rivalry with once told me that his plan was to wait for me to go to bed at night at which point he would check my daily step total. No matter how many steps were needed or what time at night it was, his promise was that he was going to walk up and down his street and around his house until his step total topped mine, even if by a single step. Great fun!

Life is for the living and simply “living” requires energy. Long days at work, difficult family situations, commuting in stop-and-go traffic, for me, are all significant challenges to a steady and healthy daily exercise regimen. Tired at the end of a long day? Instead of coming home to exercise, it is much easier to shed the work clothes, put on something more comfortable, listen to stories about the work day, have some dinner, and go to bed.

With those thoughts in mind, a once active, Fitbit-oriented exercise regimen begins a downward trend. Coming home each evening fewer and fewer steps are logged. Even the immense pressure of a passionate “welcome home!” greeting by excited dogs with happy, expectant faces and glittering, hopeful eyes is overcome by the weariness of work and the effects of exposure to negative energy. Daily step totals fall to 5,000 steps with some days not even hitting that mark. The excuses are readily available, rational, and easy to accept. The onset of a sedentary lifestyle begins and seems reasonable given the circumstances. The consequences of low activity are irrationally considered to be something that will happen to someone else, certainly not me.

At its peak, my daily step totals easily surpassed 10,000, sometimes even 15,000 steps. One weekend day (or was it a vacation day?) over 40,000 steps were achieved. A Fitbit group can provide great motivation for exercise, however there is no pressure quite like that applied by dogs who are used to being walked. Many of my previous exercise-oriented walks occurred while attached to dog leashes with four-legged friends leading the way. The results from my health exam contained some concerning news, however they also included guidance for taking action. A primary recommendation is to significantly increase daily exercise. That I can do, and with a few small schedule tweaks, can lay the foundation for a solid, long-term commitment. To the delight of my furry friends, the leashes have come out of retirement and the “Road Crew” is back in action!

IMG_0145 The “Road Crew” getting after it.

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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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.