How to Give Back When You Get Outside

How to Give Back When You Get Outside

“This is what we can promise the future: a legacy of care. That we will be good stewards and not take too much or give back too little, that we will recognize wild nature for what it is, in all its magnificent and complex history—an unfathomable wealth that should be consciously saved, not ruthlessly spent.” —Terry Tempest Williams, from The Hour of Land 

This country has some seriously fantastic public lands, National Parks, National Monuments, designated Wildernesses, and wildlife refuges to visit, explore, and protect. (This is me stating the obvious.) 

Anyone who has ever spent even a moment of restorative time outside can easily see what our public lands and wild places give to each of us as individuals and to all of us as a society. They’re places where we can escape, meditate, connect, learn, grow, find perspective, and become better, stronger, more well-rounded humans. 

Being outside gives us all so much, it begs the question: What have we done for our favorite wild places lately? 

I like to start each month asking myself what I can do locally to give back to the outdoor places I love—the land in which I recreate, live, work, and call home. I make a list, and keep coming back to it the rest of the month for inspiration. 

Here are a few simple and tangible things you can do to give back to outdoor places wherever you find yourself this summer, and beyond: 

1. While you’re outside, pick up some trash! I have a designated “found trash pocket” in my hiking pack, so I always have somewhere to stow any rogue piece of trash I find on or near the trail. You can also throw a pair of gloves and a small trash bag in your vehicle, bike-bag, and/or pack so you’re ready the next time you stumble into litter. 

2. Sign up for a local highway litter patrol crew, a trail work party, and/or a Keep Nature Wild cleanup

3. Remember outdoor ethics every single time you’re outside. It sounds so simple, but if every person recreating, living, and working outside truly followed these seven comprehensive principles, our public lands would be cleaner, wilder, and better protected for future generations of both humans and wildlife. 

4. Become a Wild Keeper in your own community. Advocate for leaving outdoor places better than you find them; organize local trail cleanups in your community; visit and enjoy public lands sustainably and encourage others to do the same. 

Picking up single pieces of trash wherever you find them may seem like an unending struggle in the face of persistent litter, but take heart and remember you’re not alone. Keep it Wild has removed 90,064 lbs of trash since 2016, and since the Wild Keepers program started earlier this year, outdoor ambassadors all over the country have removed 37,040 lbs of trash from our wild places. There are 800 Wild Keepers just this term. Imagine the impact if each and every one of them picks up only one bag of trash. 

What if everyone who spends time outside picked up trash just one day a week? Or just one day a month? What if everyone learned, adopted, and proselytized Leave No Trace principles? The ripple effect would be staggering. 

Every piece of trash removed from nature is a piece of trash that doesn’t harm a wild animal, denigrate water quality, or negatively affect an already fragile ecosystem. 

Many of us taking small steps every day to “stand for what we stand on” adds up quickly to big and lasting strides toward sustainable use and healthier, longer-lasting wild places for all of us.

Narrator: This blog was thoughtfully written by Kerri Anne Stebbins. You can find her on Instagram @kerri_anne.

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